The Big Match Tactical View: Southampton v Arsenal

Arsene Wenger will be forced to rotate over the Christmas period
Arsene Wenger will be forced to rotate over the Christmas period
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Southampton are without a victory in five games - so won't relish the visit of on-form Arsenal. Michael Cox looks at the tactics, Alan Thompson assesses the betting...

"Southampton will need to improve massively from recent performances to collect any points."

Southampton v Arsenal
Boxing Day, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 1

Match Odds: Southampton 3.814/5, Arsenal 2.26/5, The Draw 3.613/5

Arsenal were defeated soundly by Southampton at St Mary's this time last season, but with the Saints without a win in five matches, and the Gunners' confidence high after the victory over Manchester City, Arsene Wenger's side start as strong favourites.

Despite a lengthy injury list, Wenger has found the right balance amongst his players, with Mathieu Flamini performing well in the holding role and Aaron Ramsey revitalised in his favoured central midfield position.

With Mesut Ozil on course to break the Premier League record for assists, Arsenal's central midfield trio is currently capable of outplaying anyone.

Wenger has kept an unchanged side in recent weeks, although he'll surely be forced to rotate at some point over Christmas.

Southampton youth products Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers will be amongst those hoping to break into the side here, although realistically Wenger will probably try to squeeze another 90 minutes out of his regular starting XI, before rotating for the home game against Bournemouth in two days' time. Oxlade-Chamberlain would add some mobility to the midfield, however.

Arsenal's main area of joy could be out wide, and in the channels. Ozil tends to drift laterally into space before playing balls into the channels, and while Olivier Giroud is often the recipient of some fine passes, against a high defensive line it seems more likely Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell will threaten Southampton's backline.

Whereas Wenger initially played Walcott right and Campbell left, he's switched them in recent weeks, allowing them to cut inside onto their stronger foot and shoot. Walcott's brilliant curled opener against Manchester City showed the value of this approach.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman is clearly starting to worry about his side's underperformance, but it's difficult to see him making significant changes to the side defeated here by Tottenham last time out.

James Ward-Prowse might come into the side to beef up the midfield, but otherwise it should be a familiar XI featuring Graziano Pelle supported by Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane, with Steven Davis at the top of the midfield trio.

Davis is the least spectacular of those players, but might be Southampton's key player here. His driving midfield runs have often caused Arsenal problems over the past couple of seasons, and he manages to connect the midfield and Pelle when the creative players aren't performing. Arsenal will have to keep an eye on his runs, with Flamini crucial in this respect.

Mane could also be a threat depending upon his positioning - he could start centrally or out on the right flank. While Nacho Monreal has enjoyed a fine season so far, he struggled against Kevin de Bruyne on Monday and won't particularly want to face the speedy Mane here.

Pelle is less likely to give Arsenal problems - Per Mertesacker prefers playing against players in his mould to quick strikers, while Laurent Koscielny will take every opportunity to nip ahead of the Italian to win possession quickly.

In truth, it's difficult to see where Southampton will get the better of Arsenal here. Aside from Mane and Davis' forward runs, Arsenal should be comfortable defensively, and going forward they have superior individual talent - plus Ozil connecting everything together. Southampton will need to improve massively from recent performances to collect any points.

The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

The Saints are without a win or a clean sheet in their last six starts in all competitions and their three wins at home have all come against sides currently lower than them in the league. When facing sides above them home or away this season they have lost six and drawn three, and four of those defeats have come at St Mary’s. The Gunners arrive in Hampshire in good mood - they have scored 18 times on the road this campaign from their nine starts, only Leicester have scored more (21). Depending on what happens earlier at Anfield a win here could put Arsenal top of the league on Boxing Day.

Ronald Koeman has already made his feelings clear about the festive fixture list as his side have to travel to West Ham on Monday, less than two full days later, and I think after this game those moans may get a little louder. Last season his side only conceded 13 goals at home, and they have matched that target already this campaign - 50% of the goals scored at St Mary’s have been in the Southampton end.

Arsene Wenger's men have only failed to score at Stamford Bridge when they have played away from the Emirates this season and they have scored 15 in their last six Premier League away days. There is still a bit of an injury crisis at the Emirates though and Alexis Sanchez is rumoured to have suffered a setback and so is not expected to start on the south coast.

Southampton have beaten Arsenal in only one of their last 11 meetings, although that win was here last season. I am going to split my stake in this one and back half on Arsenal/Arsenal in the Half Time/Full Time market @ 3.6 and also back Arsenal @ 2.18 in the Match Odds as a saver should they not manage to lead at half time.

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