Premier League 17/18 Week 33: Arsenal vs Southampton – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The Gunners return to the Premier League where they must fend off a Saints side staring relegation in the face
14:15 BST, Sunday 8th April, Emirates Stadium (London, England) Sky Sports
Having won their last 3 games across all competitions by 3 goal margins, the Gunners are heading into the familiar territory of making a strong finish to their season. While Arsenal’s last chance of silverware and their best chance of Champions League qualification hinges on their European campaign, they will not want their Premier League status to dissolve. With Burnley now only trailing them by 2 points, a fourth successive home win can help them maintain their 5-point distance.
Southampton, too, saw their rivals edging away from them this weekend. With Palace’s draw extending the gap to safety to 3 points, a win is needed at the Emirates for the Saints to get their heads back above water. While Mark Hughes led Stoke to a 1-0 win over the Gunners earlier this, Southampton are without a win in 5 matches and have lost both previous away games by the same 3-0 scoreline that Arsenal have recorded at home during March.
Last Time Out
Arsenal 4-1 CSKA Moscow (Europa League)
The Gunners exploited an ageing Moscow defence to take a commanding lead into next weeks second leg. The quarter-final tie began in explosive fashion when Aaron Ramsey scored twice for the home side within the first 10 minutes, however, the first of which was disallowed for a marginal but correct offside decision.
Aleksandr Golovin curled a fantastic free-kick beyond Petr Cech’s grasp soon after to add tension to the game. This proved to be short-lived, however, with Alexandre Lacazette restoring the Gunners lead from the penalty spot after Mesut Özil was felled in the Moscow box.
With Arsenal’s players oozing confidence, both Ramsey and Lacazette added a second goal each to put Arsenal firmly in charge of the game. Ramsey’s goal in particular will receive many repeat viewings but this was a match will be enjoyed in its entirety by Wenger who knows his team are now heavy favourites to reach the semi-final draw.
West Ham United 3-0 Southampton (Premier League)
Mark Hughes watched on in his first Premier League game in charge of the Saints as they were ruthlessly torn apart by an inspired West Ham side. With both teams heading into this relegation showdown in need of a victory, Southampton offered little throughout the 90 minutes.
It took the Hammers only 17 minutes to take a 2 goal lead, and a third was deservedly added before the teams made their way back to the dressing room for half-time. While they showed more organisation within their ranks after the interval, they still provided almost nothing as an attacking force. Joe Hart finished the afternoon without having needed to make a save in the West Ham goal and although under new management, it appears to be a familiar problem holding Southampton’s ambitions back.
David Ospina (ankle) Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knock) and Santi Cazorla (Achilles) will be joined by Henrikh Mkhitaryan who picked up a knee injury in the second half of their win over Moscow. Coming just three days after that match, Wenger could make wholesale changes to his side with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang one player likely to be restored to the team after being cup-tied last Thursday.
Sam McQueen (groin) will not feature while there are also doubts over Mario Lemina (illness) for Hughes’ second Premier League match in charge of the Saints. Likely to stick with two forwards, there could be some changes of personnel to a midfield who proved ineffective last week.
Key Battle: Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal) vs Oriol Romeu (Southampton)
Elneny has recently signed a new contract with Arsenal just 7 months after inking his previous contractual upgrade with the Gunners in a mark of the clubs appreciation for the Egyptian. While he was dropped from the starting lineup for their important Europa fixture, he will surely be back in the team this weekend and eager to show why he should stay there.
With Mario Lemina facing a late fitness test before the teams are decided for this clash, it paves the way perfectly for Romeu to come back into the squad after missing the Saints last 3 Premier League fixtures. Having proven himself more than capable of adding midfield solidity to the side over the past 2 years, Romeu will need to re-establish himself under a manager who has only given him 3 minutes of FA Cup playing time.
Two goals against CSKA last Thursday proved that despite his lengthy injury record, Aaron Ramsey still has the quality which Arsenal desperately need. Wenger spoke after the game of the return to form being partly down to Ramsey being afforded a run of games in the team. Picking up match-sharpness and confidence while forming a bond with the players who now occupy the positions in the team around him.
With 9 goals and 10 assists for the Gunners this season–despite not featuring in most of their matches since their trip to Southampton on 10th December–Ramsey has the statistics to back up his importance to the team. As a player who is now reaching the final year of his contract, this could be the start of another very worrying time for the Arsenal board to attempt contract renegotiations.
A new twist on an old problem
Throughout the ill-fated reign of Mauricio Pellegrino, many Southampton fans had been vocally in favour of their team using two forwards to solve their attacking problems. Since his arrival at the club, Hughes has opted to do exactly this, however, it’s yet to bare any significant reward.
While the Saints had more of a presence in the final third of the pitch against West Ham, they lacked creativity is supplying these players any service. Two scrappy goals against third-tier Wigan in the FA Cup masked a missed penalty and a lack of clear-cut chances for the team. With Hughes likely to continue his use of two main target-men on the pitch, he will now have to figure a way to get his new team into goal-scoring positions if Southampton’s long-standing problem is to be solved.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Southampton
While both Manchester City and Liverpool have struggled to bring their respective European form back into the Premier League this weekend, Arsenal could be set to show that it’s possible. While Southampton have been toothless recently and their new manager has been unable to add anything sparky to their make-up, the Gunners home form will be key to this fixture and could help them seal a 13th league win of the season on home soil.