Arsenal will be determined to reignite their title challenge with a first win in four Premier League games as they take on a Southampton side that is back on song after three straight victories.
Even before Per Mertesacker saw red for his desperate challenge on eventual match-winner Diego Costa, Arsenal had made a struggling start against reigning champions Chelsea and had found it difficult to contain the fluent attacking play of their opponents. The decisive goal came shortly after, with Arsene Wenger’s decision to sacrifice leading scorer Olivier Giroud being met with bemusement across the Emirates Stadium and beyond as they toiled from then on.
Mathieu Flamini was the unlikely man in the thick of the action, missing the Gunners’ best chance shortly before half-time as they slipped to third place in what is turning out to be a fascinating and very closely-fought race to lift the trophy in May. Anything other than a win here will be massively disappointing and will lead to more question marks over their title credentials, but it will not be a straightforward evening as they will be wary of a side that took them apart 4-0 as recently as Boxing Day.
It has been a terrific few weeks for Southampton, who with maximum points and clean sheets from their last three outings have looked much more like the side which achieved such acclaim last season. It has seen them move up to eighth place in back into contention for a European place, with the arrival and immediate impact. of Charlie Austin having seemingly lifted everybody at the club in terms of confidence and belief.
The former Queens Park Rangers star had the desired effect within minutes of making his debut last time out at Manchester United, heading in unmarked from a free-kick to reward what had been a strong defensive display. For the full 90 minutes the Saints stifled their shot-shy hosts and restricted them to just the one shot on target, and here they will be hoping to do something similar while posing a threat on the break as they did so effectively in the reverse fixture.
The hosts will give a first Premier League start of the year to Alexis Sanchez and while Mertesacker is back from suspension, Tomas Rosicky misses out after suffering another injury setback.
Steven Davis and Graziano Pelle are both doubts for Southampton, for whom Austin could be given his first start.