Southampton: Gazzaniga, Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Clasie, Wanyama, Davie, Mané, Tadic, Pellé
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Ramsey, Flamini, Campbell, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud
With Boxing Day signalling the start of Festive Fixture list for the Premier League, this fixture represents perhaps the toughest test of the three this week for both clubs.
The arrival of Arsenal to St Mary’s marks the start of an important run of games for Ronald Koeman. Whilst Southampton’s ability to regenerate each summer after selling off some of their most valuable of assets has been a testament to their scouting system, the loss of Toby Alderweireld and Morgan Schneiderlin seems to be two departures too far. Whilst Virgil van Dijk and Jordie Clasie have settled into the Premier League quite nicely, they just aren’t the same calibre of player as the Belgian and the Frenchman and consequently Southampton’s core just seems a little softer than last season. The continued injury of Jay Rodriguez is also a great loss for Southampton. Rodriguez is a player of great talent and certainly would ease some of the goal scoring burden on Graziano Pellé.
On Monday night it was a job well done for Arsenal. A 2-1 victory of Manchester City moves them 4 points clear of the team who might offer their sternest competition for the title this year but now this is the time for Arsenal to seize the advantage. With the only new injury concern for Wenger being the prolonged absence of Alexis Sanchez, Wenger will probably name an unchanged team for the trip to Southampton. A big concern however for Wenger will be if he has the depth and experience in his squad to deal with the 3 games this week. You can’t help but feel that if Aaron Ramsey were to get injured, the balance of this Arsenal side will be lost. Ramsey has slipped into the void left by Cazorla’s injury with ease and with Mesut Ozil still producing assists for fun, Wenger will be confident that the Festive period will see a 9 point return if his team remains fully fit.
Southampton’s form has really not been great in the last month, drawing only one game (against Villa) and losing the other four, confidence could well be low in the Saints dressing room with Koeman admitting even before the Tottenham game last weekend that the next two weeks were going to be crucial for Southampton (BBC interview). For that reason, I just see Arsenal being too strong for Koeman and Southampton on Boxing Day. There is a momentum developing in North London and Wenger knows that this is his best opportunity to win the title since Arsenal have found themselves in the Emirates Stadium.
Match Prediction: Southampton 1-3 Arsenal