We are travelling to play high-flying Saints for the FA cup tomorrow, and then we will face them again at St Mary’s in the league on Tuesday. Of course it is about OGAAT but it is impossible to prepare for tomorrow’s game without one eye on Tuesday’s. The team are buoyed by our excellent win v the Barcodes on Monday, and all legs should be fresh again. But how should Mikel use his squad to produce not one but two wins v Southampton?
We are lucky to have an almost fit squad in late January, so Mikel has options. Ceballos will be assessed before the game and Mari appears not to be ready yet, but that is it. Let’s say that Arteta will want one pair of fresh, experienced legs in all areas for Tuesday’s encounter: one fit defender, midfielder and attacker? Let’s say Mari is fit then and one of Luiz, Holding or Gabriel should join him. It also seems that Arteta is ready to use Chambers again which may give us an extra option in central defence, but also RFB and DM… Or is four days enough rest to not have to worry about fatigue/injury of any of our players? Still, it would be good for Arteta to have the option of playing two fresh CBs on Saturday and Tuesday. We need at least one fit DM and one fit CF, and possibly also one fit creative midfielder on Tuesday. I am convinced that energy and therefore fitness levels will be a prerequisite for double success for the Gunners.
The Saints, as we know from last month’s hard-fought draw, are a well organised and disciplined team with a lot of balance and confidence: a sort of Crystal Palace of the south coast: not sexy but solid. They are very good at rebounds and counter attacks and our central midfield duo will be well tested again. In our 1-1 draw we played without Tierney, Xhaka and Partey and Gabriel got sent off after twice trying to fill a hole left in midfield by the Elneny-Ceballos combo. Let’s hope the boys and manager have learned from that painful lesson.
In that game Arsenal had only 35% possession of the ball and had less shots on goal than the Saints – Arsenal managed to get four on target and the Saints three, though. I was very impressed with the CB duo of Vestergaard and Bednarek and they will again be a force to reckon with. Ings will be available again and no doubt the fabulous Ward-Prowse will provide a major creative threat, especially from his set pieces. So our players need to avoid silly fouls and take the game to the Southampton half of the pitch as much as possible. It will be key to out-power and out-discipline them in central midfield, and this should be a great game for our shiny toy of a summer signing, Partey.
I feel we need to start with a very strong team and mean business from the start. Forget about Tuesday’s game altogether when we are on the pitch, and show them who the Kings of the FA Cup are.
So here is my preferred team to beat the Saints:
I would keep Luiz, Xhaka, ESR and Auba on the bench, and hopefully Arteta does not need to use them. These four will all play on Tuesday if it was up to me. I am tempted to rest Saka too but neither Nelson or Pepe have had convincing performances recently and leaving Bukayo out would weaken us right now. Same goes for Tierney and Holding. Soares had a good game v the Barcodes so why not give him another game so Bellerin can play fully fit on Tuesday? I would love to see how Willian will do with the young puppies of Martinelli and Saka around him and Laca up-front (and the DM beasts of Partey and Elneny behind him). I cannot wait to see Martinelli. Gabriel will motor us on in attack and his enthusiasm and attacking thrust could well make the difference tomorrow.
So this is my preferred team.. what is yours?!