Arsenal will be chasing an eight-straight victory in all competitions and a chance to temporarily extend their lead atop the Premier League table when they take on Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday. Arsene Wenger’s side have been ruthlessly efficient in disposing of sides outside of the Premier League’s elite and will move four points ahead of Manchester City and five points clear of Chelsea with a win, with their two rivals playing 24 hours later.
Since their opening-day defeat to Aston Villa, just two points have been dropped to sides outside of the league’s top seven, which has allowed Arsenal to maintain momentum despite continuing to struggle against their biggest foes. Wenger, though, believes that ninth-placed Southampton will present a tough challenge.
“Southampton are above the expected [level] and the quality of their displays has been very good,” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website.
“Everybody who goes today to Southampton knows that they will get a difficult game. That's why we want to focus on being at our best because Southampton is a game where you want to take the points but you know we will need to fight to get them.”
Wenger made several changes to the side for their 4-0 FA Cup fourth round win over Coventry City last Friday and explained that he will again look to rotate against Southampton, although the returning Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen are unlikely to start.
“They just came back into full training on Monday after being out for three weeks,” he said. “So it's very short. But I will change some players because in the last two months we played every three days and it's very important that I get that right on the rotational front.”
It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Southampton off the field with the resignation of influential executive chairman Nicola Cortese. That led to speculation over both the future of manager Mauricio Pochettino and several of the club’s star players. Still, Pochettino continues to claim that he and the likes of in-demand left-back Luke Shaw will remain with the south coast club until at least the end of the season. One player that doesn’t look likely to stick around that long is striker Dani Osvaldo. The former Roma man is expected to head back to Serie A after head-butting teammate Jose Fonte in training, leading to a two week suspension.
On the field, Southampton have steadied the ship in recent weeks following a dismal run of results that brought to an end their fine start to the campaign. Their progress through to the FA Cup fifth round has been accompanied by taking four points from their last two Premier League games, against West Brom and Sunderland.
With Osvaldo out, Southampton will be boosted by the return of Rickie Lambert in attack. Goalkeeper Artur Boruc is also expected to return, while midfielder Victor Wanyama may be in contention. Key defender Dejan Lovren and Gaston Ramirez remain on the sidelines.
Prediction: The loss of Lovren is significant for Southampton, who badly lack quality at center-back. While they enjoy playing against the better teams on the counter-attack, there will surely be opportunities for Arsenal to exploit at the back. Once more, it may not be a full-on performance for Arsenal, but they will have the quality to step up the pace at key times and get what should prove an ultimately comfortable win.
Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League clash will kick off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC’s Premier League Extra Time, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.