Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday December 31 2012
St. Mary's Stadium
1st January, 2013.
Arsenal travel to St. Mary's on the back of four consecutive Premier League victories, but find Southampton in decent fettle themselves, having accumulated a couple of creditable away draws over the festive period.
This will be Arsenal's first competitive visit to St. Mary's since 2005 when a damaging 1-1 draw virtually ended their title chances.
With Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain a part of Arsene Wenger's squad and with Luke Shaw apparently on the radar, Arsene Wenger heaped praise on Southampton's scouting department.
''The question of Southampton's academy set-up is a very good one because they have done a fabulous job,' said the Frenchman.
'Why? It is down to the quality of their scouting, the quality of their coaching and education. When you look at what Bale is doing, and Walcott.
'And now they have they players like Morgan Schneiderlin, they have brought some players of top, top quality and they work well. They have fantastic scouting.'
'They are not comfortable [opponents], Southampton.
'I saw them against Fulham, I will watch them against Stoke (on video), but from what I've heard they played very well.'
Sanits have doubts over Nathaniel Clyne (ankle) and Adam Llalana (knee) who will have late fitness checks.
Gaston Ramirez looks to be back in contention following a knee injury.
Southampton (from): K.Davis, Gazzaniga, Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Fonte, Richardson, Fox, Shaw, Llalana, Ward-Prowse, Cork, Schniederlin, Lee, S.Davis, Gaston, Puncheon, Chaplow, Lambert, Rodriguez, Muyoka, Hoskins.
If he plays, Ramirez has the range and the radar to be the Saints creative hub. His acquisition was one of the eye raising purchases of the summer.
Rickie Lambert upfront and Adam Llalana are two of Southampton's biggest dangermen, but they will rely on Gaston's eye for a pass for service. He can shoot too and Arsenal have a worrying habit of allowing shots from distance this season.
Abou Diaby (thigh) and Andre Santos (stomach) are training again, but will not feature in the squad. Otherwise, Lukasz Fabianski (ankle) is Arsenal's only long term injury. Per Mertesacker is expected to return from norovirus.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Mannone, Sagna, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Djourou, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Coquelin, Wilshere, Ramsey, S.Cazorla, Rosicky, Chamberlain, Gervinho, Podolski, Arshavin, Walcott, Chamakh, Giroud.
All eyes will be on Theo again as he returns to his old club for the first time. The question will abound as to whether he starts through the centre again.
I think he will begin on the right with Giroud taking the central berth as the two have shown a promising partnership this season.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott will be returning to their old club for the first time.
Arsenal haven't lost to Saints since a 3-2 reverse at St Mary's Stadium in November 2002.
Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Robin van Persie have all scored their first league goals for Arsenal against Southampton. Perhaps worth a flutter on Szczesny, Coquelin or Jenkinson to score?
Arsenal played in the last ever competitive fixture at the Dell in 2001, Matt Le Tissier scored a last minute winner to make it 3-2 Saints.
The sides have played one another 79 times. Arsenal have won 41, drawn 22 and lost 16 encounters.
Lee Probert will be the match official.
Southampton are becoming formidable opponents nowadays and I think this will be a tough match with goals in it. I'm going for a 2-2 draw. Walcott and Cazorla for Arsenal, Lambert and Schneiderlin for Saints.
Arsenal are away at Swansea in the F.A. Cup on Sunday, Southampton are at home to Chelsea in the same competition.
Date:Monday December 31 2012
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