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Southampton earned a first success in six Premier League outings when winning 1-0 away at Bournemouth in midweek, but they face a significant step up in class on Sunday.
Arsenal’s lively start is rapidly evolving into a serious title tilt, and with Manchester City having already slipped up on several occasions it is becoming harder to dismiss Mikel Arteta’s men as in-form also-rans.
Nine wins from ten and a happy knack of breezing through potentially tricky tests away at mid-table opponents bodes well for the Gunners’ prospects.
However, the quick turnaround from Thursday night’s Europa League clash with PSV Eindhoven and a trip to a ground where Arsenal have failed to win in four of their last six visits mean there is no guarantee of all three points for Arteta on the south coast.
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl is without long-term injury absentee Valentino Livramento, with the right-back not expected back until the new year.
Defender Armel Bella-Kotchap dislocated his shoulder against West Ham last weekend and may require surgery, while Romeo Lavia is probably a week off returning from a thigh injury sustained in late August.
Right-back Kyle Walker-Peters had to come off against Bournemouth in midweek but Hasenhuttl was hopeful that it was a bad case of cramp rather than serious injury.
Arteta will be without midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Emile Smith Rowe until after the World Cup but Oleksandr Zinchenko is closing in on a return from the calf injury that has ruled him out of Arsenal’s last five matches.
Arsenal have lost three of their last six visits to St Mary’s, including 1-0 defeats in the Premier League last season and in the FA Cup fourth round in 2020-21.
However, they have won nine of their ten Premier League matches this season, including away victories at Brentford (3-0), Crystal Palace (2-0), Bournemouth (3-0) and Leeds (1-0).
Southampton have been fairly resilient on home soil, though, losing by a single goal to Manchester United and Everton but beating Chelsea 2-1 and drawing against Leeds and West Ham.
Saints were arguably unfortunate in both home defeats, too, outperforming Everton 2.3 to 1.7 in expected goals and recording an xG rating of 1.6 to United’s 1.1.
While Arsenal’s quality should eventually see them over the line against an unconvincing Southampton side, this trip to the south coast could prove one of their trickier trips of the season so far.
There have been a few signs that the hectic schedule is catching up a little with the Gunners, whose last four wins have come by only single-goal margins.
Arsenal were very fortunate to win 1-0 at Leeds in their last league outing, when Arteta’s men were let off the hook by some wayward finishing, including a missed penalty from Leeds striker Patrick Bamford.
Arsenal again won 1-0 on Thursday night against PSV Eindhoven when Arteta opted to start the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka and Granit Xhaka, gambling that early progress in the Europa League would allow him to rest more players in the final two group games.
It was job done on that front but this weekend will tell whether the gamble paid off in full, as there could be a few tired minds and bodies within the first team.
While Southampton probably lack the quality and form to fully exploit any Arsenal fatigue, the tricky circumstances could make this a tough game for the visitors, who may have to swap a free-flowing success for a hard-fought, one-goal winning margin, available at 21/10 with LiveScore Bet.
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