Southampton vs. Arsenal
English Premier League
Thursday, January 1, 2015
10:00 am EST / 7:00 am PST / 3:00 pm GMT
St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton, Hampshire, England
Referee: Craig Pawson
TV: NBC Live Extra (US); TSN (Canada)
It wasn't too long ago that Arsenal were a rudderless ship, meandering the seas like an abandoned, rat-invested vessel destined to wash ashore or, worse, sink to the darkest depths of the ocean. Their inability to net positive results drove one fan to cancel Christmas, while a pack of the more extreme fans - angry at the club, the world around them, and their perpetual virginity - took to a train station in a city famous for its manufacturing of toilets to spew verbal diarrhea in the direction of the squad and manager Arsene Wenger as they were getting ready to head home. Somewhere, following that infamous encounter, Alanis Morrissette was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Since that visit to Stoke, Arsenal managed to turn around their mediocre run. In their last five matches in all competitions, they've secured all but two possible points while beating fourth-place challengers West Ham away and today's opponent, Southampton. Those points might not have been secured using tactics fans have long grown accustomed to, but dammit, they walked away happy at the end of the matches.
All of which brings us to today's match versus Southampton. The south coast club is level with Arsenal at 33 points, but they sit in 4th place due to goal differential. Much like Sunday's nail-biting win at Upton Park, it goes without saying that failure to gain at least a point would further hinder Arsenal's chances towards reclaiming their comfortable spot in the table. West Ham, two points back at 31, are home again, welcoming West Brom and their new manager Tony Pulis (gross), and Tottenham - also at 31 points - host league leaders Chelsea. If Arsenal can manage a draw while West Ham and Tottenham play to their predicted results, Arsenal shouldn't lose too much ground, if any, in the table. A win today for Arsenal will see them slide into 4th all by themselves, regardless of the results of those matches mentioned above.
A loss at St. Mary's, however, will move Southampton three points clear of Arsenal, and potentially one - if not both - of the clubs right behind them in the table at the start of the day could leapfrog the Gunners. Today, the last league match of the dreaded holiday fixture mess, is about as close to must-win status for Arsenal in December in recent memory.
Arsenal XI v Southampton: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Rosicky, Alexis— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) January 1, 2015