Happy Sunday folks. Hope all is well with you lot? For me it was a day off from blogging yesterday, on account of it be a Christmas party on Friday, but back in the saddle today, hoping the boys are up for it and we can get ourselves three points against Southampton this lunchtime.
It won’t be easy though. There are just some teams that we don’t get an easy ride against. Stoke has always been one and even though they were rubbish last season and eventually got deliciously relegated, they still beat us at the beginning of the season. Southampton feels oddly similar to that, although that’d been less of a culture clash style like the Orcs, more of an intensity approach that seems to have done us over. We also always seem to play them when we’ve got injury problems or are potentially a little bit fatigued. The league record against them isn’t the best, having won once in our last five at St Mary’s, with two draws and two defeats, during that time which includes a draw last season.
Selection problems certainly are the challenge for Unai today and with Sokratis and Mustafi missing, with Koscielny and Monreal only just back from injury and having played midweek, plus the long term injury to Holding, that’s where were all looking to Emery for answers today. Is he going to go full makeshift and play Lichtsteiner and Monreal in there because Koscielny isn’t quite ready for two games in a week? Or will he take the gamble that Thursday’s game was such low intensity that Koscielny can at least get 70 minutes this afternoon?
For me that’s what I’m hoping for because although he’s probably not fully sit, he still has more pace and is a more natural choice for Lichsteiner, who has shown his age this season and at times been exposed for pace when he’s come in for Bellerin. That’s what I’m hoping Emery does and if he does go that route then we’re looking at Bellerin and Kolasinac as the full backs. Kolasinac has impressed of late but that’s been in a wing-back capacity with protection behind him in case he is caught too far forward up the pitch. With us being short at the back the option could be to play Monreal on his side, Kos in the middle and Lichsteiner as the third centre half, but again I’d still worry about the Swiss’ turn of pace. They have the likes of Ings who will have a bit of pace about him but it’ll most likely be Redmond and Armstrong who will be given the nod to test us with their pace. Up top some papers are suggesting Gabbiadini but if I was in their shoes I’d choose Charlie Austin, as he always seems to be up for playing against us and has scored a few in the last few matches I think. He’s not a pacey striker but he is one that can finish and so if he’s given the chance in the box then he’ll take it, which is why I can possibly understand why Unai might opt for caution and stick with three at the back though.
I wouldn’t though. I’d go for four, get an extra man in our forward line and see if we can test out a Southampton defence that has conceded 30 this season and has a couple of injuries too. They’ve got a new manager and so we might fall victim of that dreaded ‘new manager bounce’ but my hope is that with just one week of training behind him Hasenhuttl hasn’t been able to impart his methods fully on the team just yet. What we need to do is not give their home fans the option of finding their voice. But we know that we’ve been a second half team this season so that might not even be a choice if we start the game as we usually do.
It’s a shame that we have these injuries and suspensions at the back because if we didn’t I’d kind of fancy us to turn over a team sitting second from bottom and surely low on confidence. But the way in which they swept aside Man United (admittedly also being pegged back) shows that actually this isn’t going to be a simple match for us.
For Emery he also needs to have an eye on Wednesday’s game. The Totts rested players yesterday against Burnley, they managed to get the job done and they’ll have a day extra rest time to us on Wednesday, where as I don’t think there’s too many that Emery can rest for this lunchtime’s match. He’ll surely be picking Auba and Laca and you would have thought Iwobi and/or Laca would come in, but I wonder if Ozil will start today. I would. I think he’s the sort of player we could have used at Bournemouth away and so I definitely think he’s somebody we can use today. Torreira and Xhaka are obvious choices in the middle with the absence of Ramsey, but I do wonder if the boss goes for Guendouzi today rather than on Wednesday.
The good news is that we have absolutely no idea who he’ll pick and that’s good because if we don’t, our opponents certainly don’t, which gives us more of an element of surprise. Let’s hope that works in our favour today and then again on Wednesday.
Right, I’ll leave you with those thoughts for now, as well as the hope of a good result come 4pm.
Catch you all later.