All the attention is on Theo Walcott as Arsenal travel to Southampton on New Year’s Day. Walcott scored a stunning hat-trick on Saturday as Arsenal recorded an incredible 7-3 victory over Newcastle and the talk immediately turned to the 23-year-old’s future.

The match was the third in succession that Walcott has started as a central striker, a position that he has claimed he wants to play regularly if he is to agree to a new contract at the Emirates.  While Walcott has scored four times in his new role, striker Olivier Giroud also scored twice against Newcastle after coming on as a substitute. Boss Arsene Wenger is still non-committal about Walcott’s future leading the line.

“He likes it [in that position],” Wenger said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “But I believe Theo is just happy to play, even if he is on the wing because he still knows he can score.

“I like the fact he can play through the middle because it gives us more opportunities to do that and more possibilities to change from game to game. I will do it again.”

The focus is also going to be on Walcott at St Mary’s as he, along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, travels to the club where he came through the ranks as a youngster.

“It will be a very tough occasion against Southampton, but it is one I am really looking forward to,” Walcott said. “I am probably going to wrap myself in bubble wrap for the next few days!

“It will be a very special moment for me and Alex, and also for some of the fans to see us come back to the club.”

Since the likes of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain departed, Southampton have achieved a return to the Premier League and after a trying start are battling hard to maintain their top-flight status.

Nigel Adkins’ men have now lost just two of their last nine matches, but find themselves back in the bottom three. Southampton will be looking to show how they’ve adapted to life in the Premier League by giving a better account of themselves than they did in a 6-1 defeat at the Emirates back in September.

Adkins will again be without the influential Adam Lallana, while right-back Nathaniel Clyne is set to face a late fitness test.

Arsenal should have defender Per Mertesacker back after illness.

 

Southampton (probable)

G: Davis

D: Clyne, Yoshida, Fonte, Shaw

M: Cork, Schneiderlin

Puncheon, Ramirez, Rodriguez

F: Lambert

 

Arsenal (probable)

G: Szczesny

D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs

M: Arteta, Wilshere

Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski

F: Walcott

 

Prediction: Both sides are vulnerable defensively, as they showed as they each conceded three goals in their last match, meaning that there should be plenty of goal-mouth action to kick off 2013. Southampton should make it far closer than when the sides last met, but Arsenal’s greater quality looks likely to see them just come out on top.

Southampton 2-3 Arsenal

Where to watch: the Barclays Premier League clash will kick-off at 12.30 p.m. ET. An online stream will be provided by ESPN3.