Arsenal have given themselves a much needed boost with back-to-back wins, but in order to get a third against Southampton on Wednesday they may have to negotiate yet another defensive injury crisis. Saturday’s 1-0 victory over West Brom lifted Arsenal up to sixth place in the Premier League, just two points off a spot in the top four, and eased some of the mounting pressure on manager Arsene Wenger after what had been the club’s worse start to a league season through 12 games for 32 years. But it came at the expense of injury problems for both of their senior left-backs, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal. With Laurent Koscielny also a doubt for the visit of Southampton, having only just returned from a long-term Achilles complaint, Arsenal’s thin defensive resources are set to be tested once more.
“We have some question marks about Monreal about Gibbs about [Oxlade-] Chamberlain,” Wenger said in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “They have tests this morning. Everybody else looks to be available. Of course, as well as Koscielny just [coming] back after a long time, we will see how he responds this morning. I am still hoping that one of the two [Monreal and Gibbs] will be available.”
A reshuffle in defense would be particularly frustrating given that Arsenal are coming off the back of keeping successive clean sheets for only the second time this season. With Mathieu Debuchy out since September, although set to return in a week’s time, and Koscielny, Gibbs, Monreal and former Southampton man Calum Chambers all having spells out injured, Arsenal’s back line has been altered frequently this campaign.
“Defensive stability is very important for us,” Wenger said. “We have been quite stable recently and that’s what we want to continue. It’s vital for us that we find out defensive stability that we haven’t had since the start of the season.”
Arsenal will face opponents looking to rebound from a first defeat in seven matches, and an emphatic one at that. Despite losing a host of top talent, including Chambers to Arsenal, over the summer, Southampton made a sensational start to the season under new manager Ronald Koeman. But Sunday’s clash with champions Manchester City represented the first in a tough run of fixtures that many have viewed as a litmus test for Southampton’s Champions League credentials. A heavy 3-0 defeat to a City side that finished with 10 men was far from an ideal start to a streak that also sees them take on Manchester United after traveling to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday. But right-back Nathaniel Clyne, who earned his first England caps last month, is purely focused on the upcoming challenge.
“We have reacted] positively,” he told Southampton’s official website. “We went over the game, decided what went wrong and we’ve put that game [against Manchester City] to bed. “We’ve got another big game on Wednesday and we need to put in a good performance there. The games are coming thick and fast throughout the Christmas period so focus quickly turned to Arsenal. There was no time to dwell on it, we just have to move on and just pick ourselves up for the next game and try and put in a good performance there.”
Southampton will have to do without Morgan Schneiderlin at the Emirates after the influential midfielder was forced off against Manchester City. Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse and Sam Gallagher remain sidelined, but Jack Cork is available after illness.
Prediction: Southampton have already won once at the Emirates this season, in the Capital One Cup, but the loss of Schneiderlin makes their task of repeating that feat on Wednesday considerably tougher. The France international is key in shielding the back four and his absence was keenly felt in the second half against City. Going forward, Southampton, with the invention of Dusan Tadic, pace and endeavor of Shane Long and penalty-box presence of Graziano Pellè, certainly have the capability of scoring against what could be a weak Arsenal defense. But at home, and with Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud in tandem, Arsenal should get the win.
Arsenal 2-1 Southampton
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBC Sports Premier League Extra Time
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra