25 December 2015

Boxing Day? Ramsey will land all the punches to knock out the Saints...

Phew. Now that we've bested Manchester City, all that's left to be done is clean up the confetti and wait for the fat lady to sing. Nothing stands between us and the Prem title now, except maybe an overweening sense of confidence combined with an emotional letdown after Monday's kerfuffle. Going into St. Mary's on Saturday will feel a bit anticlimactic, all the more so because of the Saints' own struggles. It's a banana-peel of a match, no doubt about it.

There are some enticements dangling just out of reach, though. Earlier in the day, Leicester will have visited Liverpool, and should the Foxes drop points, we could see a chance at climbing to the top of the table, at least for a couple of days, if we can give the Saints their marching orders. After several seasons of selling off their best and brightest only to bounce back admirably, Southampton do seem to have crossed a point of no-return, slumping down into the bottom half of the table. Fine by me. They've given us fits in recent seasons, taking four points from our last four Prem matches and ousting us from the League Cup a season ago.

However, whereas we'll arrive on Saturday fresh on the heels of a confidence-boosting win over Man City, making it three on the bounce, Southampton have been flirting with free-fall. No one but Aston Villa and Swansea have fared worse than they have in the last five weeks, and each club has replaced its manager in recent weeks. Southampton have taken just one point from their last five matches—and that came from a home-draw against Aston Villa. It's hard to see where this squad will find the quality or motivation to contend with an in-form Arsenal.

At a risk of falling into the same overconfidence with which we started, we do have to wonder whether our hosts can stop us. Fraser Forster, the keeper who manifests into the love-child of Buffon and Casillas against us, is still out, and his replacement Martin Stekelenburg is nursing a sore toe. Adding to their woes, one-time talisman Jay Rodriguez will also miss out. It's not that they've been hit as hard as we have by injuries, but their squad is nowhere near as deep after several seasons of evisceration.

It's essential, then, that we go into Saturday's match with a steely, singled-minded determination. What good is it to win against Man City if we squander points against a squad that's circling the drain? We showed ourselves that we can overcome a deep and dangerous squad, altering tactics and formation as needed. The Flamini-Ramsey pairing was shaky at times but blunted City's glitzy attack for the better part of 90 minutes. Southampton have only managed five goals in their last seven outings. We've scored seven in our last three—and were lethally clinical against Man City, scoring from our first two shots on goal. Anything closely resembling that performance will spell lights-out for Southampton.

Aaron Ramsey, who had to hew closer to Flamini for most of Monday's match, should find much more room to roam against Southampton. He still found a few chances for himself (while creating several for others), and I wouldn't be surprised to see him open the scoring. Southampton's back-four will have all it can handle from Campbell and Walcott swirling around, Giroud grappling with defenders, and Özil threading passes. The last thing Southampton need is a rejuvenated Ramsey bombing forward.

LAST 3
Southampton 2-0 Arsenal (01.01.2015)
Arsenal 1-0 Southampton (03.12.2014)
Arsenal 1-2 Southampton (23.09.2014)

FACTFILE
The two clubs first met on Boxing Day, 1966—a 4-1 win to the Arsenal.
Southampton have not won in their last five Prem outings.
Arsenal's away-record is second only to Leicester's.

INJURIES
Wilshere, Welbeck, Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Arteta, and Rosický will all miss out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Flamini, Ramsey; Campbell, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

Arsenal come in brimming with confidence and should overwhelm a dispirited Southampton squad.

PREDICTION 
Southampton 0-3 Arsenal