Tomorrow night sees a return to midweek Premier League fixtures and another test for Arsenal, this time at Southampton. Our form has been very nice. In fact, we haven’t dropped a point in our last 5 league matches (7 wins in all comps) and we’ve only conceded 2 goals along the way. The only caveat would be that these (league) matches have all come against teams in the bottom 11 who are currently separated by a mere 6 points(!) and are ALL candidates for relegation this season. Southampton are in another bracket, a full 7 points ahead of the relegation battlers, and 13 points above the drop zone itself. Already this season they’ve taken points off both Manchester teams and won at Liverpool. They will not be pushovers and to earn full points Arsenal must play at our best.
This period of more winnable league fixtures and FA cup matches has presented an opportunity for the manager to rotate players and allow others to rest, recover from injury and re-integrate into the team. 18 year old Serge Gnabry has performed exceptionally well over this period as has Jack Wilshere. Both, I believe will be rested tomorrow, the latter having picked up a knock in the FA cup match vs Coventry City on Friday. At his pre-match press conference Arsene Wenger suggested that Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Vermaelen (left out of the squad vs Coventry) are all back and available. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, whose last league start was on opening day vs Aston Villa, is still not 100% fit (according to the manager) and might also only merit a bench spot having played 70+ minutes vs Coventry. Being a product of the So’ton youth academy, I’d expect him to receive a warm welcome when he (surely) comes on as a sub. Finally, Kieran Gibbs, who played the entire match on Friday, might also need a breather as it was his first one back from a minor layoff. As such, my guess for the starting line-up is as follows.
It’s also possible that Ramsey might start in one of the “doublé-pivot” spots (alongside Arteta or Flamini) allowing Poldolski to reprise his successful (2 goal) outing from Friday. Given that there seems to be greater acknowledgement that his fitness issues are long term, I suspect, however, that he only gets a bench spot. Another player unmentioned in the press conference was Tomáš Rosický. Hopefully he’s just getting used to his new face (after the nose break vs Aston Villa two weeks ago)…If he’s fit, he’s an excellent bench option but it might be nice to allow him further recovery time if it means a protective mask is not needed when he finally does play.
Scouting the Opponent—Biggest Signings Missing
Southampton, much like the current iteration of Arsenal, are a team built on defense but very capable in attack. As such, I expect a tight match with both teams being cautious about committing too many resources forward. The Saints will be buoyed by the return of starting goal keeper Artur Boruc even if he was at fault for the goal which turned the reverse fixture. Unfortunately they will be missing £8.5 million CB Dejan Lovren. Additionally, £12.5 million DM Victor Wanyama is listed as 50-50 in returning from a long-term leg injury. Regardless of who starts in the defensive half—I would expect ALL of them to be a bit less cavalier with the ball this time around!
In attack Southampton’s offense revolves around one of this season’s most improved players, Adam Llalana. Capable of driving the team forward quickly, Llalana’s final ball has also made him plenty capable of notching both goals and assists. He won’t have record signing (£15 million) Danny Osvaldo at his disposal after a practice-pitch fracas has brought his So’ton future into question. Instead, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriquez will be Llalana’s most likely partners up front. Another previous record signing, Gaston Ramirez, is also missing with an ankle problem. Still, Arsenal will need to be well aware of precocious talents James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw who can both move the ball quickly from back to front and wide to central.
As strong and in-form as Arsenal is, this match represents a moment of moderate crisis for Southampton. In addition to the troubles with Osvaldo and the injuries to their other big money players, Chief Executive Nicola Cortese has left the club and many believe manager Mauricio Pochettino could go next. Additionally, while still clear of any relegation troubles, So’ton have been struggling with results. They come into the match with a day less rest than us after beating Yeovil Town (2-nil at home) in the FA Cup but their league form has dropped off. While they were getting points from teams above them earlier in the season, they themselves have dropped points in their most recent league match (2-2 at Sunderland) and wins over West Brom and Cardiff have been balanced by a home defeat to Spurs and a 3-nil at Chelsea.
Last Match Before the Transfer Window Closes
In his press conference AW played down any transfer talk including speculation about contract extensions. Bacary Sagna’s contract situation was raised but the manager, while not saying the matter was settled, suggested that the player was fully committed to the cause. In previous pressers, reports about fees being agreed between FC Schalke 04 and Arsenal for forward/winger Julian Draxler have been met by denials and smiles, which seems more promising than denials and frowns (or tirades). Southampton have their own issues and it appears they might try and offload Osvaldo to West Ham (on loan) while they’ve had to beat back Chelsea’s attempts at tapping up FB Luke Shaw. As soon as the final whistle goes, I would expect pointed questions about the transfer window directed at each manager. This may be a match preview but feel free to discuss all things new and shiny… (As well as parsing each and every word/report/facial expression in regards to transfers and contract extension…)
None for me, but feel free. This is another (and perhaps the sternest) in a great series of nerve testers before the (very) tough series of Liverpool away, ManUnited home league matches, followed quickly by home matches vs Liverpool in the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16. I’ve pointed out some of the promising features leading into this one, so I’ll predict a full 3 points for the Arsenal. Anything less would have to be seen as a slip-up, but Southampton, their momentary troubles notwithstanding, should not be underestimated. Given their comfort as a defense-first team, the first goal will be critical. Go on you Gunners, Up the Arse, etc., etc., etc….
What do you think?…
Written by: 17highburyterrace