West Ham United-Southampton Preview
Southampton seem to have found new life in the early months of 2016 and are hoping to continue their charge toward a potential top-four finish Saturday when the Saints welcome West Ham United to St Mary's Stadium.
Ronald Koeman's Saints were buried in the table not too long ago, as far down as 13th place, but an unbeaten run of four straight matches has them targeting at least a Europa League spot once more.
They've navigated each of their last two Premier League fixtures against Manchester United and Arsenal quite well, coming away with a 1-0 victory over United on Jan. 23 courtesy of an 87th-minute winner from new boy Charlie Austin, and followed that result by holding the Gunners to a scoreless draw at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
Arsenal peppered Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster, but the England international had an answer each time and finished with 10 saves to preserve a point for his side.
A win for Southampton will take them to 37 points and within three of fifth-place Manchester United depending on the weekend's other results. But West Ham United have proven a bogey side for Southampton of late.
The Saints (9-7-8) have won just one of their last eight Premier League meetings with West Ham, a 3-1 triumph at Upton Park in August 2014. The Hammers have three wins and four draws in the other seven matches.
"I think it's a massive point (against Arsenal) and the fourth clean sheet in a row is a very important reason to be satisfied about the team and to go on," Koeman said. "The next game is waiting on Saturday and we're in a good position. I think the confidence is back and we have a lot of competition. That makes the team stronger. Normally you don't get these points against big teams, but now we have a home game against West Ham United.
"We were a little bit unlucky against them away. We were the better team and maybe deserved more. Maybe Arsenal deserved a little bit more. They had enough chances, but that's football sometimes - it's not so easy to explain."
West Ham United come into the clash in fine position, in sixth place on 39 points and also eyeing a Champions League spot. A victory would push the Hammers to 42 points, within three of third-place Tottenham and fourth-place Arsenal, again depending on other results.
Slaven Bilic's men will be on the hunt for a fifth league win in seven tries following Tuesday's comfortable 2-0 result over bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa at Upton Park, where Michail Antonio and Cheikhou Kouyate scored second-half goals to lift the Hammers.
West Ham are looking to complete the league double over the Saints for the first time since 2000-01. They also did the double over Southampton in 1995-96.
West Ham hold the Premier League advantage, winning 12 times to Southampton's eight. The sides have also drawn seven league meetings, with West Ham outscoring the Saints 38-31.
Additionally, the last four league meetings at St Mary's have all ended in draws, including scoreless stalemates in the last two encounters.
"They have been unpredictable at times, but they are playing good - especially recent," Bilic said. "They have had three wins in a row and a good point away at Arsenal. They are a good side and they like to play football. They have great individuals and great pace on the counter attack, so I'm expecting a very, very tough game and a very good game on Saturday."
The East London club could get a boost as Bilic hopes to have striker Andy Carroll back after a spell on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury.
"Andy is back, he has been training with us since Monday. He has been doing individual training for ten days and we will assess him tomorrow (Friday)," added Bilic, who may give a debut to Nigeria international Emmanuel Emenike, who was signed from Fenerbahce before the transfer deadline.
West Ham rallied to defeat Southampton 2-1 at Upton Park in late December. Carl Jenkinson scored an own goal after just 13 minutes, but Antonio equalised in the 69th minute. Carroll then won the game for the Hammers 10 minutes later.