Southampton v Arsenal: Early team news
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Arsenal may have beaten BATE Borisov 6-0 on Thursday and Huddersfield Town 5-0 nine days ago but sandwiched in between was a 3-1 loss to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United on Saturday.
Despite an excellent attacking display and 33 shots on target – fended off by a world-class display from Red Devils keeper David de Gea – the cold reality was Arsene Wenger’s side conceded two goals in the first 11 damaging minutes.
The trio of strikes make it 10 for the season against top club after shipping four to Liverpool and three at the Etihad – leaving accusations of the Gunners being flat-track bullies.
But with a tough trip to the South Coast on Sunday no-one can say the match is anything other than a challenging fixture as the side look to claw their way back into the top four, after slipping out of it following the loss to United.
Arsenal have no concerns other than long term absentee Santi Cazorla – who Wenger sadly admitted this week is ‘back to zero’ in his rehabilitation which has even the popular Spaniard’s most fervent admirers fearing if he will ever return – and Shkodran Mustafi who has a minor thigh complaint.
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The Saints’ German-born Portuguese right-back Cedric is a doubt with a hamstring problem with Jeremy Pied expected to deputise. Shane Long is also debatable with a calf issue.
Manager Wenger will recall a number of regulars who were rested for Thursday’s Europa League victory as he admitted this week: “At the moment we have different worries than the title. After such disappointment losing to Manchester United, you have to think about winning the next game.
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“We are too far from the title at the moment to speak about the title. It’s not realistic.
“Let’s try to win our next game and over a longer distance see if we can come back.”
Southampton’s 2-0 defeat at St Mary’s by Arsenal in May was their first in six Premier League home games against them, with two wins and three draws, including a comprehensive 2-0 victory on New Years Day 2015 and a 4-0 Boxing Day thrashing of the Gunners the same year.
Arsenal haven’t won successive away league games against Southampton since 1997 even though they also won 5-0 at Saints in an FA Cup fourth-round tie back in January.
In the total head to head between the sides Arsenal lead the way with 40 wins leaving the Saints behind on 18 wins with 22 draws.
Arsenal have won seven of their last 10 league matches but have only won two of their seven away league matches this season leaving their 11 league defeats in 2017 the worst in a calendar year under Wenger.
Wenger this week admitted his preferred formation is four at the back but it is expected he will continue at Southampton with a backline of three.
He said after switching to a flat back four against the Belorussian champions: “There was not a lot at stake on the competition side, so we could play with a bit more freedom offensively. That formation will certainly come back at some stage.
“It was also to make the team flexible because, even against Manchester United, we moved to a four at the back.
“We’ll switch more, of course. It always depends on the nature of the games.
“At the moment we’re playing with three at the back but all these players have to be adaptable to any kind of system.”
Wenger also admitted this week he is no closer sorting out the future of top earner Mesut Ozil, nor Alexis Sanchez or Jack Wilshere.