Arsenal finally gets back to action in the Premier League on Saturday, November 23 when they host Southampton at the Emirates at 15:00 with Mark Clattenburg refereeing. When the season kicked off back in August few people would have guessed this fixture would be between the Premier League leaders and the third-place club. But that’s exactly what fans are going to get as the Gunners sit in first place in the table with 25 points and Southampton are just three points back in third place with 22. The importance of this game for both teams doesn’t really need to be spelled out as it’s the ultimate six-point match.
The biggest news for Arsenal fans is that forward Theo Walcott is expected back in the squad after several weeks on the sidelines due to abdominal surgery. Although he’s available it’s doubtful that manager Arsene Wenger will rush the young England international back into action, especially since the team tops the table. Southampton will want to improve greatly over their last trip to the Emirates as they were thumped 6-1 by the Gunners. They should be a lot better this time out though since the Saints have the best defensive record in the league.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino has his team running on all cylinders so far this season as they’ve lost just one match all campaign and they come into this encounter on an eight-game unbeaten streak. Depending on the results this weekend Southampton could see themselves in first place when it’s over. Arsenal have had to wait a couple of weeks to try to forget their last league outing which was a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford to reigning champions Manchester United. That game halted the Gunners nine-game unbeaten string and saw their lead in the standings cut to just a pair of points over Liverpool who have 23 points.
But even though Arsenal hammered Southampton in this fixture last season the two sides have played to a draw in three of the last four meetings. The last time they met was in January when they played to a 1-1 tie at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton. Pochettino, who was named the manager of the month for October, has warned his players to mark Arsenal’s German international midfielder Mesut ozil as closely as possible.
Pochettino stated, “Way back when he was playing in Germany he was already showing signs of brilliance with his skills. At Real Madrid he acquired a lot more experience at European level and as a general player he added to his game. As a player I rate him as one of the top 10 players right now on the European stage.”
Although Wenger goes into this match with the option of playing Walcott he’ll still be without a few key players. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still out with a knee injury and Lukas Podolski hasn’t fully recovered from his hamstring injury yet, but he should be back in action sometime soon. Abou Diaby is still out with a long-term injury and the status of Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini won’t be known until just before the kick off. Southampton will also be a couple of players short as Jack Cork is sidelined with an ankle injury and Guly do Prado has a knee problem.
Arsenal comes into the game with three wins and two losses in their past five matches in all competitions while Southampton has two wins, two draws and a loss. Their defeat came against Sunderland in the League Cup when they dropped a 2-1 decision on the road on November 6. The Gunners haven’t lost to the Saints in their last eight home meetings. Over the years these two sides have met a total of 73 times. Arsenal has won 37 of them, lost 16 and drawn the other 20. They have also outscored their opponents by a margin of 124 to 75. At home, the gunners have has 22 wins, just a pair of defeats and a dozen draws while outscoring the Saints 74 to 32.