Arsenal plays Southampton at St. Mary’s in the traditional Boxing Day match.
Last time these two teams met at St. Mary’s was the infamous Southampton 2-0 win, which changed the course of Arsenal that season.
After the match, Wojciech Szczesny was caught in the shower with a cigarette. He was subsequently benched. However, the match proved to be a kick-starter for the Gunners and saw them collect the most point in England for the 2015 calendar year.
The club still finds themselves in a good vein of form having beaten Manchester City 2-1 last Monday in convincing fashion. The win has jolted the Gunners as title favorites despite the fact that they are still two points behind league leaders Leicester City. A Liverpool and Arsenal win on Saturday will see the Gunners go top of the table.
There is no new team news in terms of players returning to the squad. Everyone who played and was available on Monday is available this weekend. Arsene Wenger did reveal that Alexis suffered a setback and won’t return until early to mid January.
With four days of rest in between matches, Wenger is unlikely to alter his winning squad too much on Saturday. Arsenal has won four on the trot and three in a row in the Premier League. He’ll rather use next Monday’s match against Watford as an opportunity to rotate some players and maintain continuity.
We may see Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide make appearances off the bench this weekend in an effort to give them a run-out ahead of Monday’s match. With Arsenal’s midfield and attacking options lacking depth due to injuries, either player could play a significant role on Monday.
Here is Arsenal’s most likely starting lineup.
Goalkeeper – Cech
Petr Cech was busy against Man City but most of the saves he had to make were either straight at him or routine. He could have done a little better on Yaya Toure’s 81st minute strike, but credit goes to the Ivorian for what was a superb strike.
A clean sheet on Saturday will see Cech as the clear record holder for most clean sheets in Premier League history.
Right Back – Bellerin
Hector Bellerin put in a solid display on Monday. His form had been lagging somewhat since he picked up a groin injury in November. His performance on Monday was reflective of what many expect of him.
He will likely be granted a rest against Watford on Monday, giving way to Mathieu Debuchy.
Center Backs – Mertesacker & Koscielny
The duo played well on Monday with Laurent Koscielny marshaling Sergio Agüero and Per Mertesacker positioning himself well to intercept any crosses or through balls.
Gabriel will feature against Watford for one of the two, which will likely be decided after Saturday’s match.
Left Back – Monreal
Nacho Monreal did well against Kevin de Bruyne who only really threatened once when he was put through by a clever Agüero flick.
The Spaniard was unlucky to pick up an assist in the second half when Joel Campbell blazed Monreal’s delivery over the bar inside the box.
Defensive Mid – Flamini
Mathieu Flamini put in one of his best performances of the season. He won’t run around the pitch like Francis Coquelin, but his experience allows him to read the passage of play well and he constantly found himself in the right place at the right time.
His distribution has improved with each match and the run of games clearly is benefiting his form.
Central Mid – Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey put in an excellent performance on Monday and was an effective presence attacking and defending.
Flamini and Ramsey have forged a good understanding of each other. Ramsey’s ability to get up and down the pitch quickly allows the Welshman to be an important factor in Arsenal’s attack, which is also facilitated by Flamini’s positional prowess. Additionally, Ramsey understands that his defensive responsibilities are more important during certain times of the game.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Mesut Özil was again masterful on Monday, collecting two more assists to bring his total tally to 15 this season. In addition to topping the Premier League assists charts, he also tops all of the major European leagues.
The German playmaker is finally attracting the media praise that he deserves while exhibiting the world-class form that was expected of him when he signed for a record fee in 2013.
Özil suffered from illness a week prior and Wenger removed him with 15 minutes left against Man City. It’s possible that Özil will be rested on Monday but with Arsenal’s midfield already stretched, Wenger will have a difficult decision to make.
Wide Right – Campbell
Campbell once again proved the doubters wrong with a good performance on Monday. He worked hard to fulfill his defensive duties and was an effective option in attack.
Besides almost scoring a third for Arsenal, he cleverly set up Ramsey with a neat through ball that saw Ramsey’s chipped shot saved via Joe Hart’s head.
Wide Left – Walcott
Theo Walcott showed his eye for goal with a superb finish that reminded many of Thierry Henry. However, Walcott’s eagerness to defend was the more encouraging aspect of his performance on Monday.
Wenger had been reluctant to play Walcott on the wing for much 2015 after the striker returned from an ACL tear. That decision was mostly down to Walcott’s defensive deficiencies and unwillingness to commit to defending. Prior to the injury, Walcott was a regular defensive contributor and goal scoring threat on the wing.
Walcott’s defensive performance on Monday was the clearest of signs that the Englishman is back to full health and form.
Striker – Giroud
Olivier Giroud scored his sixth goal of the month, taking his tally in the league to 10 and total goals this season to 15. His goal against Man City was a confident finish that saw Giroud collect Özil’s pass before slotting him between Hart’s legs.
He is another player who has played a lot the past few months. He should be fresh and invigorated for Saturday’s match, but could make way for Walcott on Monday in an effort stay fit.