Preview by Numbers: Southampton v. Arsenal

St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
Tuesday, January 28
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Iain Williamson
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Southampton
  • This Match, Last Year: Southampton 1 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 44 Arsenal wins, 16 Southampton wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-W-W-W
  • Southampton's League Form: L-W-L-L-W-D
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 6 C / 43 F
Lukas Podolski has now scored 834 goals per start in
his Arsenal career, or something.
I've gone ahead and ranked Arsenal's 16 remaining league matches in order of difficulty and this one comes in 8th, meaning it is certainly among the more difficult half of the remaining games. If you're curious, the seven that beat it, in order, are: Chelsea (away,) City (home,) Liverpool (away,) Spurs (away,) Everton (away,) United (home,) and Stoke (away.)

In my preview for the Fulham match, I mentioned that Arsenal have to take maximum points from any game against a team in 8th place or worse to be in with a solid shout for the title; this match is one of those. Road games are always technically trickier, but Arsenal will be boosted for this midweek fixture by the extra day's rest (thank you, Friday night match!)

After this, it's Palace at home on Sunday (which is 16th on the list of 16, FYI,) then Hell Month I (Liverpool twice, United at home, and Bayern Munich in Europe,) a brief lull (though it includes Stoke away,) then Hell Month II: Electric Boogaloo (Arsenal play Spurs, Chelsea, City, and Everton consecutively in the league.)

Very much of that above was looking way too far ahead, in my opinion; I largely included it for completeness. Arsenal can't pick up 16 wins tonight, but they can pick up another vital three points as City and Chelsea (who play Spurs and West Ham, respectively) continue to breathe down their necks.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (ankle,) Walcott (knee,) Sanogo (back,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Arteta, Ramsey, Vermaelen (all match fitness)

The bad news from the Coventry match is that Jack Wilshere is likely out with an ankle injury; Wilshere played on after picking up the injury in the first half of Friday night's match, but it is worrying that it's the same ankle which kept Jack out for 17 months earlier in his career. On the plus side, Arsenal are boosted by the returns of Mikel Arteta, Thomas Vermaelen, and Aaron Ramsey to the squad.

Ramsey has been out since Boxing Day, while Arteta and Vermaelen have been out since the FA Cup tie against Spurs three weeks ago. Expecting them to swoop straight back into the side after just returning to full training would be a bit much, and with Wilshere out, that leaves Arsenal bereft of defensive midfielders. If you don't have Wilshere, Arteta, or Ramsey, who plays along with Mathieu Flamini in the holding role? Tomas Rosicky? He might still be considered a doubt. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? He started there Friday, but might not have regained the match fitness to play twice in quick succession. I've written my prediction below with Rosicky because I don't expect Arsene Wenger would radically alter the formation from a 4-2-3-1.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Gnabry, Ozil, Giroud.

Southampton Squad News

Out: Ramirez (ankle,) Lovren (ankle)
Doubts: Wanyama (calf)
Suspended: Osvaldo (two weeks, imposed by club)

Don't you just love when injured teammates pose for
injury treatment photos and remind the fan base that
they are injured?
Southampton's injury crisis, much like Arsenal's, has been improving as of late. Defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama, out since December 4 with a calf injury, faces a fitness test; he likely lacks a bit of match fitness to return to the starting XI, much like Arteta and Ramsey for Arsenal in the same position. The Saints did lose midfielder Gaston Ramirez and center back Dejan Lovren to ankle ligament damage in their last league match, a 2-2 draw at Sunderland a week and a half ago.

Off the pitch, Southampton have had a brutal week. Striker Dani Osvaldo was suspended two week by the club for a training ground bust-up with Jose Fonte that left "blood everywhere" and the center back with a badly broken nose. Osvaldo, Southampton's record signing, is likely to be transferred elsewhere before the end of this transfer window.

"Club captain" Kelvin Davis said "our dressing room is as solid as it has ever been, and it will continue to be so," in response to the incident, then later in the interview managed to get in a shot at Arsenal's title hopes, saying the Gunners "certainly won’t be getting any favours from us." He added, "I remember playing at Arsenal a couple of seasons ago and we got turned over six," and by a couple of seasons ago, he really means last year. Davis, it should be noted, is Southampton's third string goalkeeper and Adam Lallana usually wears the armband.

In addition, on January 15, club executive chairman Nicola Cortese announced his resignation, citing an "irreconcilable rift" with the club's owner, Katharina Liebherr.

Current Form

In their last league match, Southampton blew a 2-0 lead
to draw Sunderland 2-2. They've been drawn against each
other in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Arsenal's winning run has now been stretched to seven matches, after the 4-0 defeat of Coventry in the FA Cup on Friday night; two of the seven wins have come in the FA Cup, while the remaining five have been in the league: West Ham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Aston Villa, and Fulham. In the seven wins, they have conceded just twice, and after Aston Villa snapped a 390 minute clean sheet streak, Arsenal have responded by going another 194 minutes without conceding since Christian Benteke's goal.

When Southampton visited the Emirates in November, the Saints were third in the table and had gone unbeaten in eight league games. That 2-0 loss was the first of six losses over an 11 match span, during which they have won just twice (over Cardiff and West Brom) and drawn three (against Sunderland, Newcastle, and, well, Manchester City, to be fair.) Injuries have left a devastating toll on a squad that was likely punching above its weight for a while; in the process, the Saints have fallen from third to ninth. They are 20 points off the top, but 13 clear of relegation. While the top six to eight have been consolidated, as has the bottom 11, Southampton sits alone in the center of both groups; they've five points back of the place ahead of them, but seven points clear of the place behind.

Match Facts

In case you've forgotten already...
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 2-0 at the Emirates on November 23, behind an unorthodox brace from Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman opened the scoring after stealing the ball from Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who was caught out in possession. Giroud completed the scoring in the second half from the penalty spot, from a foul drawn by Per Mertesacker on a set piece.

This corresponding fixture last year was played on New Year's Day 2013 and ended level at 1-1; in a truly dour encounter, Gaston Ramirez opened the scoring in the 35th minute before Arsenal equalized from an own goal after a Theo Walcott free kick. Arsenal had just one shot on target in the match.

Arsenal's last win at St. Mary's was on December 29, 2003; Robert Pires scored the only goal in a 1-0 Gunners' victory. Just seven months earlier, Arsenal had also beaten Southampton 1-0 via a Robert Pires goal in the FA Cup Final. All of that considered, Southampton have not defeated Arsenal since November 23, 2002; Southampton came back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 after Sol Campbell was sent off.

The Referee

The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Arsenal have seen Mason twice this year, both in road fixtures. The Gunners picked up a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion and a 3-0 win at Cardiff City with Mason in the middle. You'd never realize it unless you go back and read my Cardiff preview from November, but Arsenal are unbeaten in their last nine matches with Mason, dating back to Lukasz Fabianski's 3-2 loss to Wigan in April of 2010.

Southampton have seen Mason twice this year as well, though both matches were against Sunderland. On the opening day of the year, Mason refereed the Saints' 1-1 draw with the Black Cats. In the League Cup, Mason was in the middle for now-finalist Sunderland's 2-1 fourth round win. Southampton are winless in seven all-time matches with Mason as referee.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Manchester United v. Cardiff City; Old Trafford, Manchester
    • Reverse Fixture: Cardiff City 2 - 2 Manchester United
  • Tuesday: Norwich City v. Newcastle United; Carrow Road, Norwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle United 2 - 1 Norwich City
  • Tuesday: Swansea City v. Fulham; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
    • Reverse Fixture: Fulham 1 - 2 Swansea City
  • Tuesday: Crystal Palace v. Hull City; Selhurst Park, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Hull City 0 - 1 Crystal Palace
  • Tuesday: Liverpool v. Everton; Anfield, Liverpool
    • Reverse Fixture: Everton 3 - 3 Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Aston Villa v. West Bromwich Albion; Villa Park, Birmingham
    • Reverse Fixture: West Bromwich Albion 2 - 2 Aston Villa
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. West Ham United; Stamford Bridge, London
    • Reverse Fixture: West Ham United 0 - 3 Chelsea
  • Wednesday: Sunderland v. Stoke City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
    • Reverse Fixture: Stoke City 2 - 0 Sunderland
  • Wednesday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester City; White Hart Lane, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Manchester City 6 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur