After the Christmas festivities, is there anything better than a matchday? I’ll answer that for you. No. With your stomach still full from eating your own body weight in Terry’s Chocolate Orange, sitting on the couch and enjoying a game involving your team is the perfect antidote to an uncomfortable feeling due to imbibing one too many beers of the globe.
Today’s Boxing Day clash sees the Gunners travel to Southampton, still riding high from their confidence-boosting win over fellow title contenders Manchester City. The 2-1 win showed that Arsene Wenger’s men still possess the ability to adapt their tactics in accordance with their opponents approach and could prove to be a massive indicator to where the Premiership may end up.
This late kick-off is the first of three games in a week for all teams, so the much talked of asset that is squad depth will be key to avoiding dropped points. A huge blow to Arsenal’s hopes for a win is talismanic attacker Alexis Sanchez suffering a setback in his return from injury. His expected return date is now looking to be mid-January which automatically rule the Chilean out of the hectic fixture pile-up, just when Arsene could most do with his effervescent displays.
Fear not though, as Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have been showing they can shoulder the burden of goals with the dangerous Sanchez missing. Both were on target in the victory over Manchester City and they were both supplied by the genius of Mesut Ozil, who has now registered fifteen assists so far this league campaign. The German truly has his eye in this term and with his skills laying chances on a plate for Theo and Olivier, they will pose a harrowing threat to the Saints backline.
In regards to Southampton, boss Ronald Koeman must wish he could harness the powers of time travel and go back to this time last year. The South Coast side were in fifth – one place above their opponents – and looking nailed on for Europe. Fast forward to now and Koeman’s projection of a potential relegation struggle may not be too far off the mark. Their squad should rightfully be tussling for European spots but with one point from the last five games – scoring only twice in that time – then now is the time that points mean prizes.
First choice goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg is now fit after missing out recently, but Gazzaniga has performed well and Koeman may not rush in changing the lineup. They can clasp onto the fact that last seasons corresponding fixture saw a Southampton win, but they need Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane to start finding the net again.
They will find opportunities at a premium however, as Arsenal can boast the meanest defence in the Premier League – contrary to popular opinion. Throw into the mix that Petr Cech can potentially break the record for the most clean sheets accumulated in the Premier League and this match could appear to take on a one-sided look.
One thing to remember though – and all Gooners are aware of this – is that Arsenal never make it easy. Also, the League this season has shown that no fixture is to be taken as read. Southampton have a strong and talented team that can match any that face them.
With another fixture a mere two days away, eyes may stray from the more obvious prize, which is three points at St Mary’s stadium. Us Gooners can only hope that while we sink into the couch and eat yet more junk food, the always fantastic away support and our boys who take to the pitch have enough to come back to London with the best Christmas present we can hope for – three points.
Far better than socks.