|Wenger prowls the touchline with confidence.|
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
Out: Alexis (hamstring), Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
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.
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.
|This is an accurate representation of Arsenal's|
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.
|Wojciech Szczesny defending his goal.|
Not pictured: The goal, because he's nowhere near it.
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.
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
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.
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.
|Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, scored against|
West Brom last weekend.
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.
|Here's the cover of the matchday|
program from the only other time
Arsenal has played Bournemouth.
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...
|Does he look a bit like Mark Strong or is that just me?|
You know, Mark Strong supports Arsenal.
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