Arsenal v Saints Preview: 3-5-2 With Elneny and Two Beastly Youngsters in Midfield

Theo and the Levitating Saints will visit the Home of Football tonight and oh how they would like to finally get a win over us in the league. The last time they did that The Bangles sang ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ – yes the year was 1987. However, they will be brimming with confidence to finally do it this time round, and who is to argue with them?! They are flying in the league and a win could even see them TOTL again for a couple of hours tonight.

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What can we say about Arsenal right now? We are searching for our identity and desperate for some renewed confidence and a dollop of luck. The Saints of course know all about being in the doldrums; just ask them about the Leicester beating in October 2019. Their manager Hasenhuttl was also in charge then and took full responsibility for the incredible 9-0 humiliation. The club stuck with him and look where they are now? It is just another example that adversity is part of life and can actually lead to good things, to progress. The Stoics believe strongly in Amor Fati, that adversity is part of life and actually enriches an individual’s life; they even believe that without adversity we will not make any progress so we should love and embrace it when things go awry. I am not sure whether I fully agree but their wisdom has survived for a couple of decennia and has been very popular doing the C19 lockdowns.

Well, the manager, players and the fans are facing adversity right now, and I cannot say I am enjoying it huh huh 🙂 Will some good come from it? We will have to see.

With a few injury doubts and a couple of suspensions, Arteta will have to make some changes to his usual starting-11, and in a way that will help him to appease the support. Pepe is back and the likes of AMN, Willock, Eddie and Nelson are keen to start making their mark for Arsenal in the PL.

My preferred team would be:

I know many would prefer Ceballos in central midfield or in the nr10 position, but I think we have better players. I also think that ESR and Nelson are close to a start and I hope they, as well as Laca, will make an appearance at some point. Who knows, maybe even Balogun will see some PL football. But key for me is a solid, athletic midfield and I believe that the combo of Elneny, AMN and Willock(ESR), would work a treat in terms of defensive cover, and they offer fight in midfield and good ability to support the attack. Willock is one of the few midfielders who regularly finds the net in the cup games, and maybe he can do it tonight. Saka and Soares should be able to push up a lot with this formation and provide the width, and we would have both Auba and Laca in and around the box to hurt the lofty Saints…

… and avoid making them walk like Egyptians once again.

Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners!!

By TotalArsenal.

93 thoughts on “Arsenal v Saints Preview: 3-5-2 With Elneny and Two Beastly Youngsters in Midfield

  • GunnerN5 says:
    December 16, 2020 at 12:18

    With all due respect to all of our bloggers my analysis of the Burnley game is very simple.
    This was simply a self inflicted loss firstly Xhaka, stupidly, got himself sent off by an unnecessarily angry response to a player purposely trying to rile him. Secondly Auba got his head in the wrong place and gifted them an own goal.

    The loss has nothing to do with Arteta’s abilty or tactical nous as prior to Auba being sent off we were on the front foot and looking good to win the game.

  • Here’s our latest team news update ahead of Wednesday’s match against Southampton:

    There were no further injury issues from Sunday’s match against Burnley.
    Hector Bellerin

    Suspension. Serving one-match suspension for receiving fifth yellow card.

    David Luiz

    Head. David sustained a deep laceration to the head during Wolves (h) on November 29. Due to the significant impact David has continued to be closely monitored for a concussion and has followed all protocols. David is now back in full training and his fitness will continue to be assessed ahead of Wednesday’s match.

    The best wishes of David and everyone at the Club continue to be with Raul Jimenez and his family.

    Gabriel Martinelli

    Left knee. Sustained injury during training on June 21.

    Gabi is now back in full training.

    Thomas Partey

    Left thigh. Sustained a strain to the left thigh during Tottenham Hotspur (a) on December 6. This is in the same area of the thigh as the initial strain which Thomas sustained against Aston Villa (h) on November 8.

    Thomas will be unavailable for forthcoming matches and is working hard with our medical team in order to return to training as soon as possible.

    Nicolas Pepe

    Available for selection after completing three-match Premier League suspension.

    Granit Xhaka

    Suspension. Serving the first of a three-match suspension. Will be unavailable for Southampton (h), Everton (a) and Manchester City (h – Carabao Cup QF).

    Copyright 2020 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source.
    Match preview

  • As you already know, TA, I’m all in favor of returning to a back 3
    My XI would be slightly different, though (I can explain!!, I will, actually):
    Calum – he is a former So’ton player, and he should be given his first PL restart at the Emirates, imo
    Ainsley – he HAS to play tonight, whether in midfield or as a RB-RW, for if he doesn’t, we might as well write him off, and what a shame it’d be
    Dani – he’s been bullied lately, I think he deserves this start, he did very well in our 3-4-3 run to our 14th, on a good day he has in him the “key passes” PB craves for
    Laca – I know, I know … but I think this trident deserves one last chance (they didn’t have that many opportunities to be on the pitch at the same time, THEY were the plan, originally, weren’t they??), moreover I think Mick would be sensible to admit to his mistake, and shift Auba back to the left … (I found our attack setup against the Spuds/Burnley almost ridiculously far-fetched, complex)
    What about the youngsters?? First, I agree with you when you are reluctant to give the captainship of our drifting, rudderless ship to them
    Writing them off altogether may look a bit radical, though, but on the other hand … I’d pick a Hale End bench: (Runarsson – Mari – Bukayo/Joe/Eddie/Emil/Reiss, AND if things do not work out, they have to be brought in after 60 minutes, not later, Arsène-style, maybe even given the Unai nod at half-time (I’m thinking of Laca/Eddie in particular, if the above trident is picked, Laca HAS to score, and score fast)
    Bukayo?? I think he needs a rest, I’m very afraid we might be just about to overplay him
    Folarin?? – I like the lad – A LOT – not only do I like him, but it’s been a very long time since I was that impressed by one of our scholars; but I think we need to secure his contract first, and then we should loan him to a championship side who’ll pick him from now on to the end of the season, so he might be a true contender for Arsenal first team, from the very start of next season
    Anyway, if we don’t win tonight, we’ll have to get used to having been turned into Burnley fans, wringing our hands in prayers for survival

  • Good comment LeGallos.

    You argue your case well and you may be close to the starting 11 actually. But I cannot help it that a central midfield of Elneny and Ceballos gives me the Nez dans Cul sensation 🙂

  • Some good ideas above, but as much as I’d like to see a fresh approach I fear that when it comes down to it Arteta will go with a back four again and Willian will start on the right, maybe if Soares plays we might see a better connection between them on that flank?

    If Arteta picks Elneny, Niles and Ceballos then I can live with that, both Niles and Dani have the energy to drive forward.

    A young bench would be great, but if I see the likes of Kolasinac, Luiz and Mustafi on there then I will just switch off, Nelson could still be injured which is a great shame, Eddie and Willock will probably get on the bench, as for ESR, well that would be progress but that would mean no room for Balogun and that’s a great shame as he might be our super sub if only he got onto the bench.

  • Interesting lineup TA! It’s interesting that Pepe has looked infinitely better on the left in Europa, but as a front two, he would have more freedom to drift from side to side and potentially interchange fluidly with Auba. However, that right side is going to get absolutely torched by SOTON, which is always the problem if you play Pepe on the right unless AMN is the fullback/wingback behind him.

    The partnership of Tierney, AMN and Auba on the left was very successful in the FA Cup and Community Shield, yet for some reason Arteta refuses to play them all together on the left. Saka has been very wasteful in the final third and the partnership with Tierney and Auba has not quite clicked as well – but it’s all to be expected, he’s ONLY 19!

  • Thanks again for this bit of fun GN5!

    Southampton v Manchester City = Away
    Everton v Arsenal = Home
    Newcastle v Fulham = Home
    Tottenham v Leicester = Home
    Manchester United v Leeds = Home
    Barcelona v Valencia = Home


  • Cheers for referencing the post, HH. Good manners! 🙂

    Good point about our right hand side. I sort of expect Soares to stay deep most of the time, so Joe can move forward and Elneny covers for him and Pepe a lot. But my line up is a fantasy and unlikely to be used by the master.

  • Don’t know if I’ve ever envisioned 4 of Soton’s players walking into Arsenal’s XI.

    But this group have ability: Jannik Vestergaard, James Ward-Prowse, Charlie Adams and Danny Ings. Been watching Vestergaard since last season. Great header of the ball with 3 goals. Solid CB too. Ward-Prowse has been channeling David Beckham with his amazing set piece and corner capabilities– 4G/3A. Adams has been the glue guy this season (4G/4A) doing the little things connecting the midfield and supplying Ings (6G/3A) with opportunities.

    Currently occupying 4th in the table. Notcha’ da’s Soton.


  • JW, I assume you meant Che Adams and not the 35 year old Charlie Adam who’s at Dundee and used to play for Stoke lol. Even Theo has been performing well at SOTON this year, it’s going to be a very tough match as everyone there has now integrated into Hassenhutl’s system.

  • One caution, I’d say. Arteta gave in a little to the pressure from everyone wanting us to play prettier football. Maybe there’s pressure too because he comes from Peps man city… but It has hurt us in a few games, especially spurs. Southampton is a team that can score, and look pretty good lately.

    We were on the right track last week with the effort and defending, just couldn’t close on those chances we created.

    I’d play Elneny as dm and let Ainsley go box to box, or Ceballos. If we start chasing goals recklessly, the season can get out of hand as it did with Emery. He was flailing around trying to find a formula that works. Even though we were on the right track, I don’t want Lacazette starting unless Auba is being rested, and then, only as a traditional 9.. that’s what he is.

    Of course I’d like to see some youth mixed in thoughtfully. I think we all pretty much agree on that.

  • J, football is a lot about brand and I reckon Arteta was brought to bring us a certain style of football. But first he had to finish the season as best as possible and I think he did that. Now his restoration project has started and boy is it hard at the moment. But you are right we were playing much better v Burnley and then it went all into a poop.

  • Le Gall, I really like your starting line-up. I had to look up on Arsenal website who could Nick be, but eventually I solved it to be Pepe. 🙂
    I think your midfield 4 is at least as capable as TA’s 5, and gives space for 3 attackers, but who knows…
    The only (insignificant) difference I would make is to swap Holding and Chambers as the latter is more suitable to RCB and Robbo is hardcore central defender. Maybe even consider Mustafi, but I rather have him on the bench.

  • nearly spot-on, TA, well done!!
    i think it’ll be:
    I like this line-up a lot; I can’t say the same about the bench:
    rünarsson-mustafi-luiz-cedric-joe-willian-laca (neither reiss, nor emil, nor folarin – not exactly a vote of confidence for them)

  • HH, I really like your comment about Pepe. I noticed he looked very good in Europa on the left at times (i previously argued right side only for him, but with freedom to come inside)… but I think that might be down to the level of competition really. The last two opponents in Europa were woeful defensively, it really has to be said. Most of our goals would never have happened against even the lowest premier league sides. But to me the key seems to be the freedom to let him come more central, he seems a different player that way.

    Your point about his defensive deficiencies convinces me that maybe he should be on the bench to come in later. This is a must-win as much as any I can remember. So bring him on later if needed, with clear instructions to defend hard….With him, playing attack and defense for 90 minutes is just too much to ask, he doesn’t seem to have the energy.

    Regardless of the game or opponents, I actually see him as a player I’d start and take out after 60 minutes or so, a little like I would’ve used Ozil, like Mourinho did at Real. Also , he can alternatively be a goal threat off the bench… I know that’s a luxury type treatment, and he’s nowhere near a peak Ozil. I still believe he can be a major impact player with big goals and assists if we handle him right.

  • Could be a 3-4-3 indeed, but we might be back to the 4-4-2 as well:

  • Agree on the bench LeGall… I think Reiss especially must be frustrated. That’s not a good example for Balogun to see. At least we were heard on Ainsley for Bellerin. Depending on the assignment I’m fine with Eddie starting. But If he’s told to drop deep, then I don’t like it much.

  • Indeed, this is not the proper message to send to Nelson, Balogun, Cedric (!), Chambers, Mari…
    But that happens when you have an unreasonably large squad…
    Anyway, I hope the boys correct the message with a convincing victory tonight.

    Paul Tierney is good news as the referee. He is a decent guy though.

  • Well I’m very happy about being wrong Total, that’s a much better line up given our circumstances.
    Sometimes you need to grind out a draw to end a bad run…

  • Theo … how heartbreaking will be, i wonder
    don’t know what gabe was doing chasing ghosts so high up the pitch … he’s been trying to hold the team together for so long, that was bvound to happen, sooner or later
    what wouldn’t i give for a decent team move

  • oh my eddie could have played saka in but like that move great ball from Ainsley out of the back on his left foot!!

  • I’m listening to the radio but my mate is watching it and he told me that Saka has had a fair few kicks from the Southampton players, two yellows to them so far.

  • I am enjoying the games more without commentary lately the analysts keep bringing up negatives about our poor run so I just avoid them now.

  • we have been the better team but one mistake cost us and we are yet to turn our chances into goals unfortunately

  • Tim Buton’s screenplay:

    They’re cool, calm, collected, dominant, confident, arrogant even.
    At times, we make ’em look like ‘Pool or Citeh on a good day.
    At the Emirates.
    I could cry.
    Ceballos is every good football player, but we’re such a mess there’s only so much a good midfielder can do … and I’m afraid he’ll get sent off, just as stupidly as Pépé and Granit before him

  • Yes im hoping Mikel has a strong word with Danny and at some point perhaps takes him off because another red card would doom us and with our luck currently I can see that happening as there is a lot of action in midfield.

  • It is a little worry that the same issue where Gabriel gets caught in midfield and just as in the Spurs game we were punished. They have been playing a lot of balls over the midfield into zones in front of our defenders successfully.

  • I’m not sure we have been the better team in the first half, Makayah.
    I’m positive that any Arsenal attacker would have scored from Walcott’s attempt, but I don’t know if we have a player on the pitch who could have executed that perfect assist.
    We are still playing the same “move the ball around, until a crossing opportunity comes”. The involvement of AMN or Elneny didn’t change that. Pepe is playing the good old byline crosses (what Willian used to do), I couldn’t see any trace of his bold Maverick attitude or dribbles unfortunately, that was his signature in the EL. In fact Ceballos – who made a few bad decisions already in the first half – tried to make up for the missing key passes and dribbles.

  • Arsenal. Masters of the jogging press!
    Our players not given a moment on the ball.
    Yet Soton can stand and pick out a choice of passes.

    When was the last time Aubameyang received a pass and ran toward goal?
    Not a passer or a crosser– yet patiently waits for a second defender– then dribbles to the corner.

    Pepe off. Nelson on.
    Ceballos off. ESR on.


  • I would say a lot of attacks are going down the left side especially quick through balls that allow Saka or Auba to come at the defender with space. I am also one of the Pepe on the left brigade he has performed better there in terms of dribbles at least in Europa although he has also scored some nice goals coming in from the right and he had a chance from an Auba cutback but the pass was not great.

  • Eddie with a great assist and Auba on the scoresheet at last we needed and deserved that

  • YEAH!!!!!
    bukayo’s a gem, eddie did very well, and auba scored, well cutting from the left into the center – what a relief for him … and for us
    come on lads!!!

  • gabe, gabe, oh man!!
    looks like we’ll never get out of this nightmare
    there must be a voodoo-wizard -spurs-fans pricking needles into our rag dolls somewhere, ths is the only way i can get my head around such a season

  • Only thing I can say is we have had a lot of practice with 10 men lately maybe we can get a point

  • We should have been making sure we dont get a red card thats much easier than trying to make sure we keep out a high flying Southampton team.

  • At this rate? All of the youngsters we’ve been discussing will get to play.
    We should start a pool. Who gets the next RC? No one is allowed to pick Ceballos.


  • Everton are winning 2-0 at Leicester, I bet they’re licking their lips at the thought of playing us next?

  • Holding and Ainsley have done quite well as a combination on the right for sure although they are attacking that wing with some success lately

  • we’re cursed, that’s a sure fact
    rob would have so much deserved this one
    he’s been terry-esque, a true warrior tonight

  • I am just happy not to lose and would have taken the point right after that red card given our dreadful form. We seem to have a discipline issue on top of all the other problems we have but the boys can be proud of their performance. I cant wait for some of you with better analytical skills to help me out on why Gabriel was constantly being drawn into midfield, could Mikel have perhaps made a tactical shift there ??

  • Two Gabriel mistakes at the Central circle. The XhakA area.

    But the boys fought against an average Saints side, and they did the shirt proud ⚽

  • Yes but is it not the same issue we had against Spurs where Xhaka was further up and Gabriel was caught in midfield and was easily bypassed resulting in Son’s goal it just seems too easy and other teams will pick up on it. I was however pleased with the effort and bravery especially from Saka who seemed really up for it. Holding and Ainsley also impressed me but the whole team deserves credit It could easily have been three points if we had kept eleven men but I will take the positives out of this one.

  • TA, I volunteer for the player ratings (if nobody else steps up), but it will be not at the 7-8 level as yours usually end up. Are you willing to take the risk? 😛

  • Yes sad but offcourse this glut of red cards has all come in these recent matches and diminished our chances of scoring greatly. I only just realized that Hector was suspended and not dropped I have my doubts as to whether Mikel would have started Ainsley if that was not the case. I hope he considers giving Ainsley a run of games.

  • Agree makayah. No way Bellerin should just step back in. Had my issues with some of Maitland-Niles touches today– but he was still solid in defense. Secondly, Arteta needs to pair Reiss Nelson in front of AMN on the right– as Pepe was as useful as a hood ornament today.


  • By barest of margins Kev.
    Didn’t lose. Scored from open play.
    It’s a start.

    Would be pleased to see the very successful Summer trio of Holding-Luiz-Tierney back-3 on Saturday. May not have occurred naturally– but dammit– I want to see the 3-5-2! 🙄


  • jw Pepe was not great by any means but he did put in a decent shift defensively and I am going to be a broken record here by repeating that he needs to be on the left for a change. Also Tierney and Ceballos were putting in great through balls for Saka on the left while he received balls with a man behind him on most occasions. This has also been an issue when Willian has been on the right flank the service is noticeably poorer on that side in quantity and quality.

  • The point with Pepe is that Reiss could have put in that shift– adding chemistry with AMN. Reiss Nelson will attack a defense. Something that Pepe seems unable to. This match, to me, was more suited for Nelson.


  • I am also in the Reiss fan club and do not understand how he has failed to make a squad after his last performance in the Europa league. I am not going to say that the bench should be made up of academy players but Reiss is of a similar age to Eddie and has some experience as well. I feel if he had been bought for a lot of money he would be given more opportunities.

    Look I am just another armchair coach so I am sure Mikel has his reasons and obviously sees training everyday. All I can say is our Europa league opponents may have been very lowly but surely the games themselves are better than most training sessions

  • JW, you just need to stop the losses, reboot the morale and start again so therefore Everton is absolutely huge this weekend.

    JW from what I’ve read and heard our confidence is shot and when that happens you get players who are at their limit emotionally as well as technically, they are stressed and they lose control, Xhaka has previous so it’s not surprising with him and the same with Luiz and Mustafi, you expect them to be sent off during a season because they struggle in stressful situations, but Elneny, what he did vs Burnley was totally out of character and showed how on edge he is. Tonight Gabriel was at his limit, he’s been ever present throughout this sh*t show and it maybe caught up with him this evening. He has stood up to be counted during this period as has Tierney and Saka, none of them need to be ashamed by their performances this season.

    As you say JW, 3 at the back it has to be until Partey is fit and even then keep it that way for the foreseeable future, we need to stop haemorrhaging points against teams we should beat or at least not lose to…

  • JW, Reiss was still not ready to play today after accidentally clanging heads with Kolasinac in training last week.

  • A few quick notes:

    the last league game for Emery was the one v Southampton at home. We salvaged a late draw but there was nothing to celebrate. Willock made a goal-line clearance at 1-2 when Moussa Djenepo – who was our best player in a Southampton shirt again – should have put the game in bed.

    When George Graham first came in, things didn’t look bright until he won a game at Goodison Park (0-1) thanks to Steve Williams’ goal. That was a start of a 17-game streak without a defeat (W13 D4) that helped us climb to the top. That streak finished with a 0-0 draw with Coventry at home and was followed with nine games without a victory (D3 L6).

    If we compare our results with correspondent fixtures last season, we come to a weird conclusion:

    Fulham* +2,
    West Ham 0,
    Liverpool 0,
    Sheffield United +2,
    Man City 0,
    Leicester City -1,
    Man United +2,
    Aston Villa -3,
    Leeds* 0,
    Wolves -1,
    Spurs 0,
    Burnley -3,
    Southampton 0.

    * – I swapped Fulham and Leeds with two of three relegated teams. It’s irrelevant which two of Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth given that we drew against all three of them away from home.

    We are just two points worse than we were in the correspondent fixtures last season. It feels and looks worse but it would have been better, actually, if we hadn’t had two idiotic moments from Pepe and Xhaka respectively.

    Everton is a big game. It is not just that it’s Mikel’s return to Goodison Park, it almost falls on the exact date of his first Arsenal game (actually, he was just supervising the game from the stands) at the same venue. A defeat would probably spell the end for Mikel at Arsenal and, quite possibly, at the biggest stage for a while. A victory would be a major impulse forward.

  • Appreciate the insights Kev. After further thought I’ll go one step further regarding the actions of the recent RC recipients (and Elneny). Pepe and Xhaka were just idiots. There’s no defense of what they did. Ignorant and selfish acts.

    With Elneny? My view on this and the reasoning why he wasn’t sent off– were the fact that he has no previous history, and– that in the sequence directly after the incident– he and Tarkowski spoke, with the Burnley man gesticulating he needed to keep his hands lower.

    Honestly feel it happened in error, without intent.

    With Gabriel? Inexperience. Just because he’s playing like a veteran– doesn’t mean he’s got all the tricks in his bag or tools on his belt.

    No doubt there’s pressure. But I don’t think it’s so overwhelming that it’s making players like Elneny violent or Gabriel impetuous. OTOH? We’ve seen Xhaka be an ass often enough to know it’s ingrained. Pepe? Well, simply don’t feel he’s a very bright fellow.


  • TA– a red card isn’t the predicate for my opinion.
    Though to answer your question– Granit received 3 RC since joining Arsenal. Had 1 with the Swiss National Team. An additional 5 with Monchengladbach. In 6 seasons. Nine red cards in six seasons.

    From personal experience as a hot head on a field of competition? I can vouch to know one when I see one. Comes down to how you conduct yourself when you approach a bright line. Whether you cross it or not. Xhaka dishes it out. His ability to take it in turn is in question. Being professional means more than being paid to play a game.

    Despite my on-field demeanor and countless disagreements with officials over five decades of playing and coaching competitive sport– I’d never been DQ’d from any competition. I’ve also not ever struck anyone in anger. On field or off.

    This red card? Is different than all of the ones that preceded.


  • OK I understand that you don’t like his demeanour and that he should be more like you were. But. For me it is not a problem. He shows character and usually keeps it within acceptable boundaries.

  • I don’t see the problem as structural TA. But temperamental.
    Being RC’d (for an even worse act)– 4 matches after a teammate was DQ’d for violent conduct.

    He took the professional YC as he is wont to do. Walking away from it is his M.O. He did not. He stayed near to the incident. He lashed out.

    Now? He’ll be a target to get spun up and tossed.
    Indicators point to the probability of occurring again.

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