Seventh-placed Arsenal host third-placed Southampton tonight in what is a game where the Saints must prove their capabilities as a real contender, once more, for their place within the Premier League’s top four.
Following a 3-0 loss to Manchester City who remain above them in the table, this is a match in which we will see how well Ronald Koeman’s side can bounce back from their biggest defeat of the season thus far.
Southampton are having one of the toughest periods of their campaign at the moment. Losing to Manchester City, they must face Arsenal tonight before a home tie against Manchester United on Monday night.
These three fixtures are going to be an indication of whether or not Southampton are legitimate contenders for a top four place come the end of the season.
Arsenal have been up and down in recent week’s, winning three but losing two of their last five games. Injuries have been a constant thorn in Arsene Wenger’s side throughout the season, but they have kept within touching distance of the top four.
Despite having Olivier Giroud back in the side, they have most recently been hit by an ankle injury to Jack Wilshere. Defensively the Gunners are really struggling though with Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs both concerns for Arsenal, according to The Telegraph. Mathieu Debuchy, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will definitely be unavailable for the Southampton game.
Southampton will have their own concerns going into the game with Morgan Schneiderlin definitely out of the clash. A crucial part of the Saints’ midfield jigsaw will be missed against one of the Premier League’s toughest midfields.
Players like Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla will make it tough for Southampton’s midfield to cope, considering one of their star midfielders will be missing.
It is situations such as this which the Saints must overcome however, if they wish to be taken seriously by the sides around them. As pre-season relegation favourites they have now blossomed into real contenders to upset the accepted order into which the Premier League’s top teams teams usually frequent.
Arsenal are one of the most consistent teams year-on-year at making their way into a Champions League spot and a win for Southampton could possibly be a sign that this order is changing.
However, when looking at the two squads and the players the Gunners still must await to return it is difficult to look past Arsenal proving their credentials further down the line.
Alexis Sanchez has been on fire, whilst Danny Welbeck is catching up, with a goal to win the game against West Brom in their last fixture. For Wenger, it must be pleasing to see two of his new signings beginning to click and make a real impact for his side.
They will need to earn their money when they face Ronald Koeman’s side however, the Saints have the meanest defence in the league, only conceding nine goals, despite a 3-0 defeat last weekend.
Southampton may be a brilliant side at the moment but as we’ve seen before, consistency, as well as being able to win the big games such as tonight’s match-up are key to staying near the top.
It may act as a disservice to Southampton for the remainder of the season that they have started so well as they will now have to face up to sides who will be going all out to knock them off their perch.
If they want to prove doubters wrong, a win over Arsenal should certainly change some minds.
Albeit with their brilliant defensive record, missing Schneiderlin could prove crucial for Southampton. Arsenal to win, but far from comfortably.
Arsenal 3-2 Southampton
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena