After a two week break from league play for that scintillating Europa League action we all crave, the Gunners are back at the Emirates hosting 18th place Southampton for the second match of the season against the Saints.
The first match in December saw the Gunners’ 22 match unbeaten streak come to an end as Danny Ings and Charlie Austin combined to score three goals off of headers and ruin the return of Laurent Koscielny to the Premier League after his lengthy injury layoff. Despite a brace from Henrick Mkhitaryan, the then-last place Saints defeated Arsenal 3-2 on the home debut of new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.
Since that match, the Saints have not managed to completely escape the relegation zone, as they currently sit in 18th place with 24 points. However, Southampton has improved under Hassenhutl, and a win against Arsenal will undoubtedly allow them to climb out of the basement of the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s up and down form since December has kept the Gunners from cementing a top four place. Only one point off of 4th place Manchester United and even with Chelsea in at 50 points, Arsenal are still very much within contention for a top 4 finish.
Despite suffering a rash of season-ending injuries, the Gunners seem to actually be in good health heading into the match, all things considered. With Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, and Mesut Ozil all back from short term injuries, Arsenal’s midfield will have a wealth of depth and options available to them.
The only question mark in the lineup will be Laurent Koscielny, who was subbed off in the second half against BATE Borisov for, as manager Unai Emery called it, “precautionary reasons” after taking a knock. Thankfully, it seems as though Sokratis is fully recovered from his ankle injury, returning to the side as Koscielny’s substitute agains BATE, scoring the third and final goal for Arsenal.
The most notable return to the side has been Mesut Ozil, whose feud with Unai Emery had boiled over into the public eye. After Thursday’s victory against BATE saw the return of Mesut Ozil to the starting lineup after several weeks of omission, all eyes will be on the lineup that Emery fields to see if he is willing to give Ozil a chance to fight for his place on the roster.
With this match and a match against Bournemouth on deck, Arsenal have a good chance to end February much better than they did last season, which saw three consecutive defeats for the Gunners. They will need all six points, as March will see back-to-back top 4 matches away at Tottenham and then hosting United. A little consistency will go a long way for the Gunners, and it can all start with this Sunday’s match.
WHAT: Arsenal v Southampton
WHEN: Sunday, February 24th, 9:05am est/6:05am pst/2:05pm bst
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
WATCH: Unfortunately, this match will only be available in the states on NBC Sports Gold.
***Please do not link to or discuss any illegal streaming sites***