Arsenal vs. Southampton: Key Matchups and Tactics to Look for
After a two-week break to finish filling the field of 32 countries for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Premier League gets back underway on Saturday.
Southampton will be looking to extend their Premier League best eight-game unbeaten streak—a win could take the Saints to the top of the table.
There are a number of key matchups to look for in what should be a scintillating game. Here's a look at the possible tactics and matchups Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettino will look to employ.
All stats from WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.
Neither manager will likely surprise each other with their tactics, as both Wenger and Pochettino have reliably played 4-2-3-1 formations for most of the season.
But the way the game may play out may not be the way you expect.
Normally, you would think that Arsenal would be the team keeping possession and Southampton the team pressing to win the ball back and go on a quick counter-attack.
But Southampton have actually been the better team keeping possession, 56.9 percent to Arsenal's 55.5 percent.
Conversely, Arsenal have been the better team breaking up opposition attacks, averaging 21.6 tackles and 13.3 interceptions per match. The Saints also average 13.3 interceptions per match but only average 20.5 tackles.
Adam Lallana vs. Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna
The one primary advantage Southampton look to have in the match is the ability to break opponents down off the dribble, especially with Adam Lallana.
Lallana has been given a freer role this season. Never mind where the lineup sheet says he's going to start, the new England international won't be there for long.
The 25-year-old can play on either wing or in a central role. Lallana's 1.9 successful dribbles per match ranks 15th in the Premier League.
His pace and skill make him a target for opposing defenders, who often are forced into fouls to stop the Southampton academy graduate. Lallana is fouled 2.5 times per match on average, making him one of the 10 most fouled players in the Premier League.
Arsenal's full-backs, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna, will have to be up to the task if they see Lallana coming their way.
Gibbs is a bit vulnerable to the dribble, as he has been dribbled by 10 times this season. The 24-year-old also has committed 10 fouls this season.
Sagna has been a bit better defending dribbling runs, only being beaten twice so far in 2013-14. However, when the Frenchman is beaten, he is usually beaten badly. Sagna has already been cautioned three times, including his infamous rugby tackle to stop Luis Suarez.
Mesut Ozil vs. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama
One of the main reasons for Arsenal's rejuvenation as a title contender has been Mesut Ozil.
The transfer from Real Madrid has been the primary catalyst for the Gunners' attack. Ozil is tied for the Premier League lead in assists with four, is tied for second in key passes per match with 3.0 and leads Arsenal with 1.8 successful dribbles per match.
Southampton will hope to break up service to and from Ozil with Morgan Schneiderlin most likely drawing the assignment.
The French midfielder is Southampton's leader in tackles and ranks sixth in the Premier League with 3.9 tackles per match. Schneiderlin is also the Saints' second most prolific interceptor of passes, with 2.0 per match.
If Pochettino wants to take a different approach, he may put Victor Wanyama on Ozil to rough him up a bit.
Surprisingly, Ozil has only been fouled 0.5 times per match, a small amount for a great player who often has the ball. Wanyama would have no problem giving a hard challenge or two to break up an attack, as the Kenyan is second in the Premier League with 2.6 fouls per match.
Olivier Giroud vs. Dejan Lovren
One matchup that may be a bit overlooked is the battle between Olivier Giroud and Dejan Lovren.
While Arsenal may not be known for their aerial prowess, Giroud definitely provides the option, whether going for goal or knocking the ball down for teammates. The Frenchman has won 5.1 aerial duels per match, the fifth most in the Premier League, winning over 50 percent (56 out of 109).
Lovren may actually be superior in the air, winning 4.5 aerial duels per match. Those who challenge the Croatian in the air don't often come out on top, as Lovren has won 50 of his 68 duels, more than 73 percent.
The battle won't be all in the air. Giroud can make the key pass to set up teammates, as shown by his four assists and 1.5 key passes per match. But Lovren can pick out opposition passes very well—his 2.5 interceptions per match leads the Saints.
Aaron Ramsey vs. James Ward-Prowse
For those who want to see the future of the Premier League in the midfield, the battle between Aaron Ramsey and James Ward-Prowse will be of definite interest.
Due to their versatility on the field, Ramsey and Ward-Prowse may not actually mark each other regularly.
Wenger may elect to play his Welsh prodigy in a more defensive role due to the absence of Mathieu Flamini because of suspension. Meanwhile, Pochettino has the option to play Ward-Prowse centrally or out wide, depending on who else he includes in the starting 11.
But both players have the makings of true box-to-box midfielders for years to come.
Most people notice Ramsey's offensive skills—and for good reason. The 22-year-old already has six goals and four assists to his credit this season. Ramsey is also a very efficient passer, completing 85.6 percent of his passes.
However, one would be foolish to overlook his defensive prowess. Ramsey averages 4.8 tackles per match, which is only second to Liverpool's Lucas Leiva.
While Ward-Prowse doesn't produce the same type of numbers Ramsey does, the 19-year-old has shown signs of why his is a star in the making.
The Southampton academy graduate leads the Premier League in accurate crosses with 3.0 per match, and also ranks highly with 2.1 key passes per match and an 86 percent pass completion rate. His pinpoint passing and set-piece ability has already drawn comparisons to David Beckham.
Even if you just watched the two No. 16s and no one else, you would probably receive full value for your ticket on Saturday.