Southampton were sitting pretty in fifth on Christmas Day last year, but they now head into the Arsenal clash on the back of a dismal run that saw them take just one point from last five league games. The Gunners may have failed to win at St Mary’s since 2003, but they appear ready to reverse the trend on Boxing Day.
Southampton’s performances this season are a far cry from their displays last term, especially during the opening exchanges, and it looks as though the Saints will be unable to mount a challenge for European positions. There is still plenty of time for Ronald Koeman’s charges to turn things around, but their latest showings cannot give the fans reason for optimism. It is clear that the players are not performing to their potential, even though it is difficult to determine why, with the Saints experiencing serious problems up front. It’s now been almost two months since top scorer Graziano Pelle scored his last goal, with Sadio Mane also failing to score in last seven league outings. It is, therefore, not that surprising that Southampton lost four of last five Premier League fixtures, with the 6-1 League Cup defeat to Liverpool serving as another major confidence blow. Therefore, taking everything into consideration, we don’t see how the hosts are going to stop high-flying Arsenal from winning at St Mary’s.
Maarten Stekelenburg should be fit to play, but it remains to be seen whether he will be preferred to Paulo Gazzaniga, who did very well in his absence.
There are no fresh selection worries for Ronald Koeman, but Jay Rodriguez, Florin Gardos and Ben Foster continue to miss out.
Even if Leicester City currently sit two points in front of them in the overall standings, many agree that the Premier League title is Arsenal’s to lose. For the first time after quite a while the Gunners look like genuine title contenders and with their title rivals largely struggling, Arsene Wenger’s men can further increase their advantage during the festive schedule. Arsenal have already passed several tests with flying colours of late, hammering bogeymen Olympiakos in Athens to continue their Champions League campaign before cementing the second place in the standings with back to back wins over Aston Villa and Manchester City. The Gunners obviously cannot afford to relax just yet as the easy festive fixture list gives them a unique opportunity to finally return to the top of the standings and create a serious advantage over the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United. And with key men Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud on top of their game, we see a great value in backing the Gunners to end the barren spell at St Mary’s.
Even though he was supposed to return for the Manchester City game, Alexis Sanchez will not be back in action for another two or three weeks.
Meanwhile, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck and Francis Coquelin remain in the infirmary ahead of the Southampton clash.
Key Factors to Consider
- Arsenal last won at St Mary’s Stadium back in 2003
- Southampton lost five of last six matches on all fronts
- Arsenal are looking for their fifth successive triumph in all competitions
- The Gunners won last two away games without conceding
- Olivier Giroud has scored six goals in last four outings for Arsenal
Southampton have been far from the desired form for a couple of months now and with their key attackers firing blanks, the Saints will find it hard to match red-hot Arsenal. The Gunners are playing with a great deal of confidence at the moment and we are backing them to extend the excellent run.
Verdict: Away win
Best Odds: 11/10
Bookmaker: William Hill