Premier League preview: Southampton v Arsenal
By Football News
Hat-trick hero Theo Walcott returns to former side Southampton for the first time on New Year's Day with rival clubs circling for his signature.
The Gunners risk losing the England international for free when his deal runs out at the end of the season and were left in no uncertain terms as to his value following his superb hat-trick in a pulsating 7-3 win over Newcastle on Sunday.
And while Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will have delighted in the rampaging finish that saw four goals in the closing 20 minutes, he will know full well how Walcott's stocks have risen on the eve of the transfer window.
Walcott's contract saga aside, it was an all-round positive display on Saturday and one that all Premier League rivals fear when facing Arsenal.
The Gunners' 6-1 mauling of Southampton at the Emirates in September will spark painful memories for Saints fans, particularly given the Gunners' battering of Newcastle.
That showing has been easily Southampton's poorest performance since their return to the Premier League and highlighted their defensive frailties perhaps better than any other game.
A late Walcott strike and two own goals rubbed salt into Southampton's wounds that day but they will be a different proposition for Arsenal on Tuesday at St Mary's.
After one win in their first 10 matches, Nigel Adkins' Southampton have proven their credentials in the top flight with only two defeats (both 1-0) in nine fixtures.
The leaky defence, which shipped a Premier League record 28 goals in 10 matches, has let in only nine since.
Adkins will likely be without influential captain Adam Lallana for a fifth straight game due to knee ligament damage and may re-introduce Uruguayan playmaker Gaston Ramirez after leaving him out of a much-changed line-up at Stoke.
Only Cameron Jerome's late wonder strike for 10-man Stoke denied Southampton the three points on Saturday in a 3-3 draw at the Britannia, a fortress Tony Pulis' side had only conceded four goals at before the match.
Wenger has a relatively full squad to pick from for the trip and may hand a larger role to striker Olivier Giroud, who nearly bagged a hat-trick within the space of 16 minutes after coming on as a substitute against Newcastle.
A win for relegation rival Wigan saw Southampton return to the drop zone for the first time since early December, while Arsenal's fourth straight Premier League win move them up to fifth, within two points of the Champions League places.