ANDDDDDDDDDD we’re back! We return to the Emirates this week against this season’s revelation Southampton. A loss against United reduced our lead on top of the table down to just 2 points, but with Liverpool facing Everton in their local derby it’s our chance to gain some breathing space again. I’m not suggesting this fixture will be a walk in the park (it’ll be anything but), I just want to sleep a little easier at night!!!
This match looms as the EPL’s best attack against the EPL’s best defence (they’ve only conceded 5 in 11 games). It’ll be another scrap…in all probability more so than the United game.
Mauricio Pochettino has turned Southampton into a well-oiled machine and has developed their defence into the meanest in the league. However, Southampton has not won away at Arsenal since 1987 (13 losses and 5 draws).
1st v 3rd…Let’s get in to it shall we:
Missing in Action:
Arsenal: Podolski (Hamstring) – back in training and should be back in the squad soon enough, Ox (Knee – Arsene said he’ll be back in a month – which may be code for see you in March for a few games before the season ends. It’s a real shame because HH and myself (and I’m sure countless others) tipped the Ox to explode this season. I hope he returns all guns blazing and doesn’t suffer the same fate as Vermaelen (struggling for form so long after injury and finding it tough to break back in)), Sanogo (back), and Diaby (Knee-ds to get back to fitness because we could do will the squad rotation) Ramsey will be fine to play despite missing for Wales. Flamini will miss thanks to an accumulation of yellow cards (scandalous news to take I know).
Southampton:Cork (ankle) and Prado (knee – regrettably he will be unavailable to score any own goals for us this time around)
Flamini misses through suspension so our very own lego-hair Arteta slips into the defensive spot (92.3% pass accuracy – highest in the league over 75 passes). Walcott is back!!! Therefore I think it is time to unleash the speedster again out on the right wing. May start from the bench because of his 2 month spell on the sidelines. If he does it’s definitely the German wunderkind Gnabry. The BFG should slot back in after recovering for the virus that kept him out against United. Everything else picks itself. One big positive is our internationals had quite a tranquil time away. Giroud didn’t play, Kozzer received a red card so he got one game off, BFG and Ozil only took part in one match, and Ramsey ‘injured’ himself in training…*wink wink*. So many should be ready, rested and raring to go against Southampton (barring any sort of flu, stomach, or influenza type bug).
South v Arsenal 1-1
An own goal saved us from going down to a spirited Southampton team…very wearisome for all involved. Their goal was shocking, it was though every Arsenal player froze waiting for someone else to clean up the mess.
Arsenal v South 6-1
4 first half goals (two own goals), a double from Gerv, and an absolute rocket from Lu-Lu Podolski left Southampton shell shocked. Welcome to the Emirates Saints fans.
EPL Form Guide: Arsenal: : LWWWD Southampton: WDWDW
The LONG interlull should have well and truly wiped away the despair from the United game (then again it’s not like they played us off the park or anything. They got lucky with a header). Time to get a string of wins going again and dampen Southampton’s dream run (sorry guys, it won’t last.)
Southampton are on an 8 game unbeaten streak and have only lost once this season. They beat Liverpool at Anfield and they drew with United at Old Toilet…*clears throat*
This week I’ve dipped into the Arsenal Archive and pulled out this video clip. It’s the 2003 FA Cup final win against Southampton. God (dennis) the last few minutes were hard to watch. Thank goodness A.Cole was on the line to clear Beattie’s goal bound header. Have a look:
One to Watch:
This week’s one to watch is Adam Lallana. The new England international has been in top form this season and is one of the main reasons behind Southampton’s start to the season (so a winger who has come up through the Southampton academy hasn’t been pinched by another team? and why hasn’t anyone pinched Luke Shaw yet? He’ll end up at United soon enough I’m sure of it). He’s enjoyed a freer role this season and it’s paid dividends. Look for him to run at our defenders at every chance (highest number of completed dribbles in the last round of fixtures – 5). Gibbs (72.1% 1 v 1 challenges won this season) and Sagna will have to focused and make sure they don’t let him run free all game. If he gets the chance he will make Arsenal pay. Rickie Lambert is one to keep an eye on; he’s been in top form since his move from Norwich.
Arsenal’s one to watch this week is Theo Walcott. He’s back ready for action (hopefully in a starting position). Southampton taught him the ropes from a young age… so what better way to show them just how far he’s come than by scoring against them?! Southampton have had the least number of shots on target against them in the league this season (31) but I think Walcott’s pace will test that stat. Returning to action so soon is not something I’d normally advocate but I think he’s completely vital in this one (if not Theo definitely Gnabry). Southampton play a high line and will look to suffocate anything and everything. Playing Rosicky and Santi out wide would feed straight in to their trap. If we can use the pace of Walcott to get in and behind their defence it will stretch them, and hopefully make them retreat a little. Even if he only has 60′ in him he should start; in that time hopefully we can pinch and early one and change the shape of the game. Time to see Ozil’s delicious passes out in front of Walcott again. Only this time Walcott will be ready to convert on the counter.
Ramsey and Ozil vs Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama
Ramsey has set the EPL on fire this season; Ozil has lifted our team to the next level. This week they face a tough task as they line-up against two workhorses in Schneiderlin and Wanyama (number one in the league for fouls committed – 29). Ex-Celtic player Wanyama was linked with us for some time (what defensive midfielder hasn’t since Gilberto left?!) and I’m surprised he didn’t end up at a bigger club. I expect both Southampton midfielders (especially Wanyama) to rough up our midfielders on every occasion they get. Their goal will be to break up our fluidity at every chance they get, and make no mistake they will do it anyway they can. I feel the winners of this duel wins their team the match.
This week’s finger goes to Nicklas Bendtner.
We were lead to believe he was training hard and focusing on football. Most fans wanted to see the back of him, some were coming around to the idea of keeping him (I know I was, I didn’t even sell him on FIFA14…we’ll I have now but that was because I needed a sweetener to get my Reus deal over the line!). We’d hardly heard a peep out of him this season. However, in typical Bendtner fashion he had to start flapping his gums again. In an age where every single athlete is that well media trained (so much so they are all starting to sound like bloody robots dribbling the same old tired rhetoric. Don’t believe me, then look at what Southampton’s midfielder James Ward-Prowse said this week: “I know it’s a cliché, but we’ve just got to take each game as it comes, prepare right for each one, and go into them with the right attitude and mentality to come out on top. There’s a confidence instilled in us that no matter who the opposition are – whether they’re lower league or top of the league – we can go and beat them. I think these next couple of games (Arsenal and Chelsea away) will show us as a club where we’re at in terms of playing the top teams in the league, and I think we’ll be alright.”), Bendtner still manages to make a fool of himself. As soon as a microphone gets shoved in his face he’s back saying how he wanted to leave and how he’d love to play for Barca/Real. Who is he fooling? Perhaps if you focus on the important stuff you may actually get there one day. What squandered talent. Oi Bendtner, shut it and play ball!
Pre-Match Pat on the back:
This week’s pat on the back is going to Arsenal’s shot stopper Wojciech Szczęsny.
He’s told his dad to stay off the Wódka and stop drunk texting Arsene. He’s done what Bendtner hasn’t and put in the hard yards. Best of all he’s performing exactly how Arsene and all of us knew he could. He has the potential to be a world class keeper, and at only 23 (feels like he’s been around forever!) he really does have the world at his fingertips. His hard work has paid off and he was rewarded with a new contract and special praise from the manager. Keep at it Szczesny…you deserve it young man!
‘Ask the opposition’ returns again this week. Boy was it a struggle to get there this week! Four blogs ignored my email. Two forums blocked me and delete my comment (not like I was trying to bloody sell something. I wrote it in their ‘Arsenal v Southampton’ thread). I knew a week like this would come but I never thought it’d be at the hands of Saints supporters…maybe Totts or Man United. Nevermind we got there in the end. This week the brilliantly named ‘Le Tissier’s Laces’ has stepped up and offered to have a go. I’m glad he has because he’s written some quality responses. Let’s see what he’s written for us this week:
1. What do you attribute to your fast start to the season?
I think the excellent start we’ve had has been a combination of two factors which are of course interlinked – our high-pressing, high tempo style of play, and the fact that our outstanding coach, Mauricio Pochettino, has had a full pre-season in which to implement his philosophy and ideas. It seems odd that none of the ‘lesser’ sides (and by that I mean those that are unable to buy in significant talent, such as a £40m Ozil) have not adopted this style previously, as it’s clearly very tough to play against, but then I genuinely don’t think many coaches have been able to implement it from the off. Pochettino is a disciple of Bielsa and has grown up around this style of play. Should we carry on at the level we are, expect many to try and copy it from next season.
2. Do you think your squad is big enough to keep you up all season??
Currently we’ve been lucky with injuries. The greatest fear of any Saints fan right now is a serious problem at either left-back or goalkeeper. Our replacements for those positions (namely Danny Fox and Kelvin Davies) aren’t of the requisite quality unfortunately to keep this level of performance going. With a fit first team we’re a match right now for anyone in the division. A couple of injuries such as those would likely see us start to drop points. Although there’s a lot of faith placed in the up and coming youngsters, ideally some strengthening in key positions would be a priority in January. Much as the management and owners of the club think the sky’s the limit, and preach that positivity throughout the club, you won’t find many Saints fans that genuinely see us as title contenders, or even top four. Top six is certainly doable though.
3. Are you happy with how your transfer window went?
We strengthened smartly in the close season, and despite some initial reservations about Dejan Lovren after a hellish last season at Lyon, he really has been the star player that we’ve brought in. Calm and composed, and with no little skill on the ball, he’s been the fulcrum of our excellent defensive record at the back. A lot was made of, and expected of, Victor Wanyama when we brought him in, and he certainly provides a menacing physical presence in front of the back four. Again, his addition has contributed significantly to our meanness in both senses of the word, but he is prone to making small technical errors that can prove expensive. On the flip side, he’s also only 22, and once those minor errors get ironed out, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Our record signing, Dani Osvaldo, he of the Jonny Depp looks, is yet to really fire, but his quality is evident when he’s on the pitch. What’s exciting for Saints fans right now is that we’ve got ourselves into third place, and yet our Italian international forward is yet to truly get going.
4. What position/ player is your weakest link?
When we have a fit first team I don’t think there is a specifically weak position which is part of the reason for our success. There are no outright ‘star’ players in the team, but there’s a genuine seam of quality running through the team as a whole. If I was pushed on that, we sometimes can struggle on the opposite wing to Lallana. Jay Rodriguez, despite his recent call up, is probably the player whose first team position feels most under threat.
5. What position is Arsenal’s weak link?
Arsenal have assembled what looks to be a formidable team currently and much like ourselves, when the full squad is fit and up to speed there are no real glaring weaknesses that stand out, particularly now Giroud seems to be firing. If there’s an area to exploit for visiting teams, it would likely be the central defensive positions. Mertesacker, for all his undoubted quality, isn’t the paciest and Koscielny feels erratic.
6. Which Arsenal player would you love to have in your team and why?
It would be a toss up between Ozil and Carzola for me. The classic ‘bums on seats’ players and thrilling to watch when on song. Other than Lallana, we lack a genuine creative force in the midfield (an area we may well be strengthening in the January window), and unfortunately, despite his talent Gaston Ramirez has failed to really shine in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League. It would be a delight to see either of those two in a Saints shirt.
7. What is your match prediction?
My head says an Arsenal victory as long as your players find a way around our high-energy style. I’d happily walk away from the Emirates with a point and without Arsene trying to steal another of our youngsters. My heart would hope for a Liverpool loss early in the day and a Saints victory to take us top! Southampton top of the Premier League. Now wouldn’t that be something…….
At the start of the season I never thought I’d be sitting here worried about a home game against Southampton! They really have taken the league by storm. They may not be a team of star players but they work together it’s working. If results go their way and they win by more than a goal they’ll be top of the league! Surely they can’t take points from us…can they? A win against South will definitely send a message to the rest of the EPL and boost Arsenals confidence. Nah I think we’ll be too strong and our midfield will be the difference. It’ll have to be if we want to break down their stubborn defence. A goal early could see has net 2 or 3. I feel it’ll be another chess match. If they score first I don’t think we’ll be able to wrestle back all 3 points. It won’t be pretty but we’ll get the job done in the end. Arsenal 1-0.
What is your prediction?
Can Southampton continue their dream run?
What starting line-up would you choose?
What position is their weakest link at the moment?
What tactic would you employ to beat Southampton?
Written by: Oz Gunner