Preview by Numbers: Southampton v. Arsenal and Arsenal v. Bournemouth

Wenger prowls the touchline with confidence.
After their 2-1 win over Manchester City on Monday, Arsenal are now the odds-on favorites to win the Premier League (even though they are still two points behind table-topping Leicester.) We've seen this before from Arsenal; when the Gunners led the table for so long in 2013/14, they were also in second place on Christmas Day, goal difference behind Liverpool. We all remember what happened there.

Something feels different about this Arsenal team and they've won some tremendous home games this season, beating Manchester City, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich by a combined scored of 7-1 at the Emirates. They are unbeaten against everyone else in the top seven of the table, winning five and drawing once against Spurs back when the squad was being held together with duct tape. That's great news, considering their losses to West Ham, West Brom, and West London...

Of course, they're still teetering on the brink of injury disaster, and with the festive period about to get hectic (so hectic that I have to combine two previews in one because I'll be out of town this weekend,) we have to keep all of our fingers and toes crossed that we're still sitting this pretty in a week's time.

So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everybody! When I speak to you next, we'll be halfway through the season, and if all goes well, we'll be sitting at the top of the table, too.

St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
Saturday, December 26
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Keith Shroud
  • This Match, Last Year: Southampton 2 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 45 Arsenal wins, 18 Southampton wins, 24 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-L-D-W-W-W
  • Southampton's League Form: W-L-L-D-L-L
Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (hamstring), Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)

Remember Rosicky?
Well, it's happened; Alexis Sanchez is now truly an Arsenal player, having suffered "a setback" in his return from the hamstring injury he picked up against Norwich a few weeks back. Arsene Wenger has earmarked him for an "early January" return, which can mean anything from January 1 through January 15. Arsenal play Liverpool at Anfield on the 13th, so how optimistic do you feel like being right now? Also, they play Stoke at the Britannia on the 17th.

Elsewhere, Mikel Arteta is closest to a return, which might mean a disastrous 15-minute cameo sometime soon, perhaps? The long-term injured list includes Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, both of whom should be out until at least... March-ish?

Then, there are the three who used to be what we called the long-term injured. Danny Welbeck has been out since April. Tomas Rosicky got hurt on international duty in June. Jack Wilshere suffered his injury during pre-season training. Arsene Wenger mentioned earlier this week that Rosicky could be back to training in three weeks. Welbeck won't make it back in January because of bone bruising. Wilshere's prognosis appears to hint at a late January return, but who knows?

With all of that in mind, it looks like Arsenal will not be able to rotate straightaway; I'd expect the same XI that beat City to start on Saturday in Southampton.

Predicted XI for Boxing Day: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

Southampton Squad News

Out: Forster (knee,) Rodriguez (ankle,) Gardos (knee)
Doubts: Stekelenburg (toe)

Southampton's struggles this year have largely involved some
flux at the goalkeeper position, with Maarten Stekelenburg
deputizing for the injured Fraser Forster. Also, they didn't
really replace Morgan Schneiderlin.
Southampton's latest injury news has revolved around their goalkeepers; Fraser Forster has returned to training after missing nine months with a knee injury, but he's not expected to make a first team appearance until the start of the new year. Meanwhile, his back-up, Maarten Stekelenburg, has missed the last two matches with a toe injury, forcing Paulo Gazzaniga to start between the sticks. He allowed three goals across two matches, but the Saints scored zero to support him. In any case, Stekelenburg is expected to be available again tomorrow.

The Saints will be without forward Jay Rodriguez, out for two months now with an ankle injury which required surgery, and defender Florin Gardos, who has not played yet this season with an ACL injury.

Predicted XI: Stekelenburg, Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Clasie, Davis, Tadic, Mane, Pelle.

Current Form

This is an accurate representation of Arsenal's
current form.
After Arsenal's traditional dip in form in November, the Gunners have come on strong again in the month of December. Arsenal have won all four matches they've played since the last turn of the calendar, beating Sunderland, Olympiacos, Aston Villa, and Manchester City by a combined scoreline of 10-2. This all followed a November where Arsenal had a record of one win, two draws, and two losses. Still, the damage wasn't too bad, as they are four points clear of City for sole possession of second place in the league table.

On the other hand, Southampton have plummeted since the November international break. When the Saints beat Sunderland 1-0 on November 7, they had won three straight across all competitions and were unbeaten in eight. They were seventh in the table after that weekend, headed into the quarterfinal of the League Cup as well. Then, losses to Stoke and City were compounded by a 6-1 loss to Liverpool in the League Cup. Three days later, they needed to come from behind to draw last place Aston Villa 1-1 and lost Stekelenburg to a toe injury, as mentioned in the team news section. They haven't scored since, losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace and 2-0 to Spurs. Now, the Saints are 12th, six points clear of 18th place Swansea for relegation, but eight points back of fourth place Tottenham.

Match Facts

Wojciech Szczesny defending his goal.
Not pictured: The goal, because he's nowhere near it.
Southampton and Arsenal split their league encounters last year, with Arsenal winning 1-0 late at the Emirates in December and Southampton winning 2-0 at St. Mary's on New Year's Day. Earlier in the season, Southampton won at the Emirates in the third round of the League Cup.

In that cup tie, Alexis Sanchez scored first from a free kick, but Southamtpon equalized from the penalty spot and won it on Nathaniel Clyne's long range wonder goal. Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring in the league encounter in London as well, but that goal came two minutes from time, as Arsenal won 1-0. Fraser Forster made seven saves for the visitors.

Of course, this fixture at St. Mary's has become famous for Wojciech Szczesny's nightmare day. The Polish goalkeeper was at fault for both Southampton goals and was later caught smoking in the showers afterward. Szczesny only started FA Cup ties for Arsenal from there on out and is out on loan at Roma this season.

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. Southampton, of course, were not in the top flight between 2005 and 2012.

The Referee

Moss's car?
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Arsenal had won every match they had ever played with Moss as the referee, including last year's FA Cup Final and a 2-0 win over Stoke City earlier in the season. That streak was snapped in late November with the 1-1 draw at Norwich City, in which Moss did not see or chose not to punish Ryan Bennett, who shoved Alexis Sanchez into the photographer's pit. Arsenal had had a record of 11 wins, no losses, and no draws with Moss in the middle, but right now, they'll have to settle for 11 wins, no losses, and one draw.

Southampton have had Moss once so far this season, for a 3-0 win over Norwich City in late August. Last year, the Saints had a record of three wins (Swansea, Stoke, and Everton,) one loss (Crystal Palace,) and one draw (Tottenham Hotspur) with Moss in the middle.

Around the League

All 20 teams are in action on Boxing Day, playing a usual slate of Saturday games, in terms of time slots. There's an early game at 7:45 Eastern (12:45 in England) and a late game at 12:30 Eastern (5:30 in England.) There's a full slate of 10:00 a.m. Eastern (3:00 p.m. England) games as well. Then, Arsenal and Southampton play later in the evening, in the time slot usually used only for midweek fixtures.
  • Early match: Stoke City v. Manchester United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Aston Villa v. West Ham United; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Bournemouth v. Crystal Palace; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Chelsea v. Watford; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Liverpool v. Leicester City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Manchester City v. Sunderland; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Swansea City v. West Bromwich Albion; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Tottenham Hotspur v. Norwich City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Late match: Newcastle United v. Everton; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 26
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Roger East
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Darren Deadman
  • This Match, Last Time: First league meeting
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win
  • Bournemouth's League Form (pre-Boxing Day): L-D-D-W-W-W
Bournemouth Squad News (pre-Boxing Day)

Out: Atsu (calf,) Wilson (knee,) Elphick (ankle,) Gradel (knee,) Mings (knee)
Doubts: King (hamstring,) Stanislas (hamstring,) Tomlin (groin)

Junior Stanislas left last weekend's game through injury.
This picture is not of him being hurt; he looks far too happy.
Joshua King is a major dought for Bournemouth's Boxing Day clash with Crystal Palace after injuring his hamstring in warmups prior to their 2-1 win over West Brom last weekend. Junior Stanislas came off injured from the same match and is also a doubt. Glenn Murray and Marc Pugh are expected to deputize if needed. Lee Tomlin (groin) and Christian Atsu (calf) are also expected to miss out. Tomlin could be back for Monday's match against Arsenal, but that's probably too soon for Atsu.

Elsewhere in the squad, the long term injuries include serious knee injuries to Max Gradel, Callum Wilson, and Tyrone Mings. Mings was signed for a club record fee from Ipswich this summer; he was injured just minutes after making his first league appearance for the club. Tommy Elphick is also out for another week or two with an ankle injury.

Predicted XI for Boxing Day: Boruc, Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels, Ritchie, Gosling, Surman, Pugh, Arter, Murray.

Current Form

Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, scored against
West Brom last weekend.
Bournemouth go into Boxing Day on fire. Well, not literally on fire, that would be terrible.

In contrast to Southampton, Bournemouth had lost five straight across all competitions going into the November international break. They were in 18th place, with just eight points over 12 matches, and two points from safety. They came out of the break with two draws, against Swansea and Everton, but it was the latter draw, the bonkers 3-3 with the 98th minute equalizer, that gave the Cherries some hope.

They were winless in nine across all competitions by then, but Bournemouth went to Stamford Bridge and beat the reigning champions 1-0. Suddenly, the belief was there. A week later, they beat Manchester United for a famous home victory. Last week, they benefited by playing much of the match against ten men, as they beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1. Now, Bournemouth are 14th and four points clear of relegation.

What a difference a month can make.

Match Facts

Here's the cover of the matchday
program from the only other time
Arsenal has played Bournemouth.
As this is Bournemouth's first top flight season, this will be the first league meeting ever between Arsenal and the Cherries. The clubs have only met once before, in the third round of the 1987/88 League Cup.

At the time, Arsenal were the League Cup holders, having won the tournament in 1987 over Liverpool after famously beating Tottenham in a replay in the semi-finals. In 1987/88, Arsenal defeated Doncaster Rovers in the second round, while Bournemouth defeated Exeter City in the first round and Southampton in the second.

The clubs met at Highbury on October 27, 1987; Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners to advance to the fourth round. They would go all the way to the final for the second consecutive year, where they lost to Luton Town; the Hatters finished 9th in the top flight that year.

Well, that was a certainly a lot to say about one minor cup tie where I couldn't even find who scored the goals...

The Referee

Does he look a bit like Mark Strong or is that just me?
You know, Mark Strong supports Arsenal.
The referee is Wiltshire-based Roger East. This will only be the second time Arsenal have ever had East as a referee; the first was the 2-2 draw with Hull City last year, in which Arsenal needed an injury time equalizer from Danny Welbeck to spare their blushes.

Bournemouth have seen East once already this season, for a 5-1 loss at home to Tottenham Hotspur. Matt Richie scored in the first minute for the Cherries before Spurs scored five unanswered, including a Harry Kane hat trick. Ew.

Around the League

16 of the league's 20 teams are in action on Monday, with five matches at 10:00 and three matches (including Arsenal's) at 12:30. The remaining two matches play out on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Monday: Crystal Palace v. Swansea City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Monday: Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Monday: Norwich City v. Aston Villa; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Monday: Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Monday: West Bromwich Albion v. Newcastle United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Monday (late): Manchester United v. Chelsea; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Monday (late): West Ham United v. Southampton; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Tuesday (night): Leicester City v. Manchester City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Wednesday (night): Sunderland v. Liverpool; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and hot cocoa drinker. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat. If you did, you would've seen a sneak preview of this post in addition to an awesome hot cocoa photo.