Almost exactly 3 years ago – December 26th, 2015 – Arsenal travelled to St. Mary’s to face up against the Saints. It was an opportunity for the Gunners to go top of the league, and Arsene Wenger and his side would have been well aware of the positive statistics surrounding being at the league’s summit going into a new year.
Things couldn’t have worked out much worse, then, when Southampton managed to pull off a 4-0 demolition of Wenger’s side – you may recall defender Cuco Martino’s incredible 30-yard debut strike in that match. It is strange, considering this, to imagine the chasm that has opened since this result: Arsenal have won more matches on their current 22-match unbeaten run than Southampton have won over the past 22 months.
A couple of weeks ago, Southampton looked bereft of their surroundings in the Premier League under manager Mark Hughes. After several torrid performances and poor results culminated in throwing a two-goal lead at home Manchester United, Hughes saw the door, and Southampton began down the arduous path of attempting to get their season on track.
Ralph Hasenhuttl, the new man at the helm, arrives with an impressive CV following his exploits with RB Leipzig. His first game may have come a bit too fast for him – a one-nil defeat away at Cardiff City – but he will be hoping to make his mark during his first home match as manager.
He may have his work cut out for him though, because despite leaving it late last weekend against Huddersfield, Arsenal are undeniably in good-form: 22 games without defeat in all competitions (W17 D5), with 14 of those matches being Premier League games, of which 10 were wins and 4 were draws.
A win against Hasenhuttl’s side would mean that Unai Emery would have amounted Arsenal’s best league point haul after 17 matches in over a decade – not bad after losses in the opening 2 matches.
Many Arsenal negative tropes have become unrecognizable under the new manager – such as having poor away form – but one interesting stat is that in all 16 league matches this season, Arsenal have not been ahead going in at the break – they’ve been level in 12 and found themselves behind in 4 games. That stat may also explain why the Gunners have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 17 away matches and why they currently have the league-high of 12 points amassed from losing positions.
In some negative news for the opponents, Southampton, with a loss would earn a very unwanted club record – 13 Premier League games without a win, their longest ever in the competition.
In terms of team news, Arsenal had a positive midweek boost when Laurent Koscielny made his return to the playing field against Qarabag on Thursday. The Frenchman started the match and played for the opening 72 minutes, so should be good for his return to league action. Good timing, too, because Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkrodan Mustafi will not be featuring having both picked up their fifth booking of the campaign last weekend.
Also up for a return to league action is Mesut Ozil, who recovered from the back spasms that had kept him out of the previous 5 matches to play in the 1-0 win against Qarabag on Thursday.
It was Lacazette who got that goal, and the striker has 6 in the league this campaign – a lot of which were from the bench, where he has proved to be exceptionally effective.
It also looks like Aaron Ramsey will be good to make a return after missing the previous two matches with an ankle injury.
For Southampton, there are a lot of returns, which their manager will no doubt be delighted to hear. Full-back Cedric Soares is back in the team after missing the Cardiff match with a calf issue, and forwards Danny Ings and Shane Long are both in contention for the first time in several weeks.
The Saints are currently sitting one place above Fulham in bottom on just 9 points from 16 games, so will be desperate to seal 3 points which could see the jump out of the relegation zone and ahead of Huddersfield and Burnley into 17th place.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are holding their own in what has been a very impressive season for the sides towards the top – after 16 matches, the Gunners are on 34 points and sit in 5th place, behind Chelsea – and the Champions League places - on goal difference.
Despite this being an away game, a lot of stats speak strongly in the gunners favour for this one. That being the case, under new management, Southampton will be out to cause upsets and should not be taken lightly. With Arsenal’s record when it comes to clean sheets, they may let in a goal or two, but in their current form against the Saints current form, you’d have to fancy them to continue their unbeaten run.
Arsenal travel to St. Mary’s to face up against Southampton in the Premier League with kick-off scheduled for Sunday the 16th of December at 1.30PM local time.