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SOUTHAMPTON FC

V

ARSENAL FC

St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton

January 28, 2014;  19:45 GMT

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Arsenal FC and Southampton FC will play each other this Tuesday, though under different circumstances compared to their first encounter in November. While Arsenal were in control of most of the match to that point, it was difficult to see from where that goal would come. It was Artur Boruc’s bid to outdo Johan Cruyff with some fancy footwork, and his failure to do so, that led to Olivier Giroud scoring the opening goal. Giroud would go on to score one more and Arsenal would take all three points at the Emirates. Since that game, Southampton have fallen off the pace in the top-four race, while Arsenal remain contenders for the Premier League title.

Osvaldo's ban for punching teammate Fonte means Southampton have limited options at center forward

Osvaldo’s ban for punching teammate Fonte means Southampton have limited options at center forward

At that point, Southampton FC appeared to be dark horses for a Champions League place. Since then, injuries have exposed their lack of depth. At this point, it would take a miracle for them to attain qualification to world football’s premier competition. To make things worse, Nicola Cortese’s resignation has cast some doubt on the future direction of the club. Pablo Osvaldo, not for the first time in his career, assaulted a team-mate on the training pitch, prompting a suspension (he previously assaulted Eric Lamela during their time at AS Roma), and that leaves them with little depth at center forward.

On the other hand, Arsenal FC are at the top of the English Premier League, due mostly to a sterling defense and the best midfield in the league. Their ability to pick up points against the bottom 16 is unmatched in the league. They have done this with plenty of injury issues of their own, and look to the return to full fitness of some key players to give the squad a lift. With a few days left in the January transfer window, Arsene Wenger may also look to add to his side to better compete for the FA Cup and Premier League.

Southampton – Team News, Lineup, and Formation

Southampton come into this match with more injury issues than their previous encounter with Arsenal. While Dejan Lovren did not play at the Emirates, he was a late scratch due to illness. This time, Southampton will be without their leader and best defender due to a serious ankle injury he picked up against Sunderland. The same goes for Gaston Ramirez, who also injured his ankle against Sunderland. Victor Wanyama status for this match is currently unknown, as he works his way back from a hairline fracture in his leg. Pablo Osvaldo remains suspended, while Jose Fonte should play despite the facial injuries Osvaldo inflicted upon him. Rickie Lambert and Artur Boruc should be fit to play after missing Southampton’s FA Cup match with Yeovil Town.

Mauricio Pochettino has led Southampton to the top four

Mauricio Pochettino will be concerned with player fatigue, as 7 of the probable 11 players have played Yeovil Town on January 25th

Given the current state of his squad and his recent preferences, Mauricio Pochettino does not have too many decisions to make with his preferred 4-2-3-1. As long as Rickie Lambert is fit, he will start at center forward. If he is not fit, then Guly do Prado will start in his place. Behind the center forward will be the trio of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana, and Stephen Davis, the latter of whom Pochettino has recently favored over James Ward-Prowse. If Victor Wanyama is fit, then he will pair Morgan Schneiderlin at the base of midfield. If he is not fit, Jack Cork will continue next to the Frenchman. Southampton would lose Wanyama’s energy, strength, and love to tackle (which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how the referee calls the game), but Cork offers better on-ball ability, allowing them to make quicker and more effective transitions. Also, with Cork tending to sit deep, Schneiderlin may be more willing to take up advanced positions. The back four will likely consist of Luke Shaw at left-back, Maya Yoshida at left center-back, Jose Fonte at right center-back, and Callum Chambers at right-back. Artur Boruc will likely be in goal.

This line-up would contain seven players who started in Southampton’s FA Cup match against Yeovil on January 25th. Given the importance of their pressing game to their success, fatigue could play a major role in whether Southampton take any points away from this fixture. For a primer on Southampton’s playing style, read here.

Possible Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Boruc, Chambers, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Cork, Davis, Rodriguez (CAM), Lallana (LAM), Lambert (CF)

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Arsenal – Team News, Lineup, and Formation

Arsenal come into this game with some fitness questions. While Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby will certainly miss this match, the status for selection of Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, and Thomas Vermaelen is up in the air at this point. Beyond that, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski continue to work their way back to 100% match fitness, with the latter unlikely to start against a side that will require plenty of tracking back over the 90 minutes.

Giroud will hope Boruc makes another mistake like the one he capitalised on in the reverse fixture

Giroud will hope Boruc makes another mistake like the one he capitalised on in the reverse fixture

Arsenal did not have to work hard against Coventry as they found themselves up 2-0 before the 30-minute mark. Therefore, fatigue should not be much of an issue going into this match. Oliver Giroud, who came on as a substitute in their FA Cup match, will start at center forward. Behind him will be the trio of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Oxlade-Chamberlain only played 71 minutes in the match against Coventry, so whether Wenger lets him play the whole match is unknown. At the base of midfield, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini will likely continue in those positions. Granted, since this is Arsenal, the four midfielders not named “Flamini” will play fluidly, interchanging positions and roles. Therefore, this kind of classification is relatively meaningless when Arsenal are in attack. The back four will consist of Bacary Sagna at right-back, Per Mertesacker at right center-back, Laurent Koscielny at left center-back, and probably Nacho Monreal at left-back, as he has started in the majority of Arsenal’s January fixtures. Wojciech Szczesny should start in goal.

Possible Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud

Key Facts

  1. Both sides have one player in Whoscored.com’s Premier League Best XI for this season, Aaron Ramsey and Dejan Lovren.
  2. Two-thirds of the goals Arsenal have conceded have come in the second half.
  3. Jack Wilshere has had a bit of influence, in Aaron Ramsey’s absence, either scoring or assisting four of the last five goals Arsenal have scored in the Premier League.
  4. Since losing to Arsenal, Southampton have conceded 18 goals in their last ten matches.
  5. Southampton have not beaten Arsenal since the 2002-2003 season.

Source: Whoscored, FourFourTwo

Player to Watch Out For

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)

Alex_Oxlade-Chamberlain_(c)wikimedia(dot)orgAlex Oxlade-Chamberlain has not yet returned to full fitness, but Arsenal will need him to get back to that level soon. He is one of the few Arsenal players who can beat his marker off the dribble. If he can consistently provide that kind of penetration, it will add another dimension, a crucial dimension, to Arsenal’s attack. It will allow Arsenal to break down the most organized of defenses, something that could prove critical when it comes to winning the title. If Oxlade-Chamberlain looks sharp, shows good energy, and lasts the whole match, then that is a clear sign that Oxlade-Chamberlain is ready to play a larger role in filling the void created on the right by Theo Walcott’s injury, and is back on track with respect to turning his potential into production.

Prediction

Southampton 1-2 Arsenal

Arsenal have not hit the heights that they hit earlier in the season, but they have consistently picked up three points against sides that are clearly weaker than them. They have not shown a desire to beat an opponent by four or five goals like Manchester City. Instead, they look to control the game after getting a two (or sometimes even one) goal lead. Arsenal’s superior depth should also give them an advantage, as they can better cope with their injuries. They not only have better quality throughout their squad, but their players are probably fresher than Southampton’s, as they played their FA Cup match a day earlier. Finally, the injury to Dejan Lovren should not be underestimated. He is as important to Southampton’s back line as Per Mertesacker is to Arsenal’s. Not having him against a side like Arsenal is a major loss, and should prove fatal.

Blast From the Past