HIS CIVILIAN HAIR IS PERFECT TOO - Julian Finney
Arsenal vs. Southampton
Saturday, November 23, 2013 7AM PT/10:00 am ET/3PM BT
Emirates Stadium, London, England
Form (last five Premiership games): ARS DWWWL SOU WDWDW
TV coverage: NBCSN
Saturday, we welcome the Premier League back after a couple weeks off to tie up some international loose ends. I'm not sure exactly how we would welcome back something that isn't a human - we can't give the Premier League a hug, we won't be taking it out for drinks, or anything like that. I guess we welcome it back by watching it.
Anyhoo, it's back, and Arsenal pick up...hopefully not right where they left off. Which was a loss at Manchester United. Apart from that, though, Arsenal are playing very well indeed - 13 points out of a possible 18 in their last six matches, only two league losses to date. The only team in better form right now? Southampton. 14 points from 18, in fact, and they are currently sitting third in the table, three points behind Arsenal.
Wait what? Southampton? The team that just last year finished five small points above the relegation places? The team that was relegated in 2005, docked 10 points and subsequently relegated to League One for
being driven into administration by Harry Redknapp going into administration in 2009, and only just reappearing in the Premier League last season? That Southampton? Yep, that one.
So, what's changed? Well, for one, the manager - Southampton are managed by Mauricio Pocettino, an Argentinian who had previously managed Espanyol for four years. He's a defender by trade, and he's instituted a pressing style of play that doesn't just try to score goals - he understands that for a less-glamorous (and thus less well-funded) team like Southampton, who can't rely on (insert trendy big-team name as reference here)-style attacking football alone, defense is vitally important. Southampton have only conceded five goals this season, lowest in the Premiership (Arsenal have conceded 10), and while they've only scored 15 (Arsenal: 22), they don't exactly need to score a lot to win games.
They have in fact only lost once this season - away to Norwich. So while in previous years, Arsenal may have seen Southampton as one of the lesser games on the schedule, this season Arsenal have no such luxury. Southampton will press, they'll move, and if Arsenal aren't on their game, they could find themselves sharing the league lead by the final whistle.
Southampton have no major injury worries coming in to the game - they'll be able to field a full-strength lineup, including freshly-minted internationals Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez, and Rickie Lambert. Arsenal are also relatively healthy
- Walcott and Ramsey should play, but Flamini must sit out thanks to those pesky yellow cards piling up in a corner of his desk.
For as much as was made about Arsenal's loss at Old Trafford and how it showed they couldn't pass the Big Test, this to me is arguably a bigger Biggest Test of The Season - Arsenal haven't lost at home to Southampton since November 1987, and while they are riding high at the moment, Arsenal need to assert that they can ride even higher, particularly against teams they have previously feasted on.
POSSIBLE LINEUP: Szcz; Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna; Cazorla, Wilshere, Özil, Arteta, Ramsey; Giroud