Wenger Do? What would you do?
Arsenal seek revenge for the Boxing Day drubbing on the South Coast. How do we do it?
The transfer window is closed and Arsenal have bought one player, Mohamed Elneny, who Gooners finally got to see in action just a couple of days ago in the FA Cup vs Burnley. He cost somewhere between 5 and 7.4 million pounds, depending on how his time at Arsenal proceeds. Compare that with teams like Newcastle and Stoke who spent more than double those amounts. The message is clear: Arsene Wenger believes in the squad he has, now it’s all about that group getting results.
Ronald Koeman’s Southampton team handed us our worst defeat of the season, a decidedly one-sided, 4-nil, beat-down on Boxing Day. Do we fear this team because of that result or does it provide extra motivation for reversing that one?
I think it will be the latter. The home crowd could help, the addition of Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin should help and the simple pride of the Gunners mean that Southampton should be on their guard.
Moreover, this is just about a must-win match for Arsenal given their disappointing results in the league in January. After squeaking a 1-nil win at home vs Newcastle they drew at both Liverpool and Stoke City before losing to Chelsea the Sunday before last. Five points from twelve has taken the team from the top of the league to third. With a weekend match at the other South Coast club, Bournemouth AFC, followed by a real six-pointer hosting current league leaders Leicester City on St. Valentine’s day, getting this next section of the league campaign off on the correct foot is essential.
Southampton, perhaps still hung over from their great win on Boxing Day, suffered a couple of set-backs, losing at West Ham and Norwich, before reversing course and finding much better form. Convincing home wins vs Watford (2-nil) and West Brom (3-nil) set the stage to steal the full points from Manchester United up at Old Trafford with another clean sheet in the last round. Their new signing, Charlie Austin, who cost less than Elneny, got the late winner in that one.
Austin’s smash and grab was big but an even bigger reason for the improved form (and the run of clean sheets) is the return of the Man-Mountain, goalkeeper Fraser Forster. We all know some of the other strong players up and down the spine of this Saints team. Virgil van Dijk, Jose Fonte, Victor Wanyama, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane are the sorts of players many teams–including Arsenal–have inquired about over the years. Shane Long is probably too old and far too cynical for the more refined tastes of many Arsenalistas, but we saw what he can do, especially if a referee turns a blind eye to his, er, gamesmanship. If we do not show up ready to match Southampton in all parts of the pitch and all elements of the game, they can punish us. It might also help if referee Lee Mason doesn’t forget his whistle.
How do we insure we get the performance that will get us the result? For me, it starts at the back. Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal–all rested vs Burnley–will surely be restored to the squad and will need to perform. So too will the central triangle of our center backs and our deepest lying midfielder. Some might argue against Per Mertesacker, but I think he comes right back into the team after serving his one-match ban for the red card Diego Costa won against him in the Chelsea match. Laurent Koscielny, although he had some iffy moments of his own vs Burnley, surely starts alongside, and Coquelin must reprise his 70+minutes from the cup match.
Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, both rested for that one, will certainly come in, with Ramsey sure to relish the more mobile Coquelin behind him. The real question comes up front. I’m guessing that Giroud takes a bench seat, much as he did when sacrificed after we went down to ten men vs Chelsea. That means Alexis on the right, Theo up top and Joel Campbell wide right. It looks like this:
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Elneny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud
Or maybe not. Elneny could go again and Ramsey could go back to that free role on the right at Campbell’s expense. Theo could play there as well with Giroud up front in what might be an extremely attacking line-up. Who knows? Only Arsene…
What do you think and how would you approach this one? It feels like a critical match, both to restore some of the pride we shipped down their way the day after Christmas and to get the business end of the season back on a winning trajectory. Five points separates the top four teams and fifth place, but that same number of points is all that covers one through four. We need to win our home games if we hope to get back on top. So, a big atmosphere, plenty of commitment and a strong performance… And a big dose of revenge for the Saints.
Go on then…