I’m not sure if it actually will result in his permanent removal from the managerial position at Arsenal if the team doesn’t win today, but by jove, I think it should. We’ve lost to Sheffield United and Leicester, drawn at home to Wolves and Crystal Palace and today we play a team as out of form as we are, languishing in 19th place.
Today should be a day that this Arsenal team lay down a marker, but I am not expecting that to be honest. The positivity of the summer has all but evaporated and right now, I think most of us just want a win, because anything less is simply unacceptable. Defeat today should result in a press release by the time the clock strikes 12. This is a Southampton team who apparently, according to a Saints fan we had on the GunnersTown show on Monday night, have stopped the intensive pressing that Hassenhuttl instigated when he arrived. They’ve lost the intensity and have suffered a dreadful run of form. They haven’t won a Premier League game since 14th September against Sheffield United, but even that was with a Sheffield United team down to 10 men.
We talk about our players and their confidence at rock bottom levels, but Southampton players are also in the same doldrums, so for me this needs to be a game in which Arsenal not only take three points, but at least try to get back to winning ways with a convincing performance. And as I said yesterday, Emery admitted as such in his press conference. He admitted that this is a game in which the supporters need to feel like we can have a bit more love for the team because, lets be honest, most of us have been finding watching Arsenal a bit of a chore and quite frankly boring.
This is Arsenal though, and nobody does “give the opposition hope” more than we do, so I’m not expecting us to keep a clean sheet and at some stage in the game I’m expecting a low-on-foncidence Southampton side to probably play better than us. The pressure is certainly off them I suspect and Hassenhuttl will no doubt play on that with his team today. He’s already said that the early goal and building a defensive foundation on it is where he’d like to go, so I suspect we’ll see a Southampton team trying to take it to us quickly, take advantage of our terrible back line, then defend for their lives. Which is why I am hoping we see an Arsenal team with lock pickers like Mesut Ozil in it. This is the type of game that he should thrive on. Intricate, tight spaces, drifting across the pitch, finding those pockets with which to thread in our razor sharp forwards in Lacazette and Aubameyang, both of whom should play today.
And I hope we see Pepe too. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a front four with those guys in, then Torreira behind them, with one of Guendouzi or a returning Xhaka in it? Those are our best players and playing them on the pitch all at the same time feels like something anybody with half a brain would do. Whether Emery does the today we just can’t be sure. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if ‘Mr Protagonists’ plays three at the back with wing backs of Tierney and Bellerin. I hope not though. I want to see us front load this Arsenal team and try to do as much damage to Southampton in their defensive third as possible. We want to see plenty of movement, pulling Saints apart with it, creating gaps for plays to find pockets for us to score.
That’s what I want to see. But I’m not expecting it. I’m expecting a difficult watch this afternoon. I’m expecting the players to play the easy ball rather than the one with high risk. I’m expecting to see sloppy defending by Arsenal at some stage and i’m not expecting to see a specific pattern or build up of style. But I am hoping for a win. Any win will do. There are those that will probably think that a win gives Emery more time in the hot seat. But today isn’t about Unai Emery and whether he has a job at Christmas, it’s about The Arsenal, which should always be the focus. Sure, a defeat or draw should lead to those discussions post game, but until that has been confirmed we have to just invest all of our hope that Arsenal will get three points that we are utterly desperate for. We need it.
Injury-wise we look like we might be without Saka, Kolasinac, Ceballos and Holding, but my hope is that none of those players would have been selected for the first XI anyway because if we play the line up I think is our best right now, it probably doesn’t include any of those players, with maybe Holding as one you could argue. I’d personally go Leno, Bellerin, Chambers, Luiz, Tierney, Torreira, Xhaka, Pepe, Ozil, Auba, Laca and see what those guys can deliver.
As for Southampton, it looks like they chop and change their formation as much as we do, because in the last three matches Hassenhuttl looks like he’s tried 3-4-3, 4-4-2 and 5-3-2, so I’m not sure how he’ll set up today. If I was to guess I’d say he’d be opting for three at the back with wing backs, particularly as Bertrand is back from suspension, so that would mean he can try to exploit space out wide when we push our full backs forward. Redmond and Ings both have pace and both will most likely play up top and if they are running in behind Luiz and Sokratis – who I’m expecting Emery to pick – then we need to make sure we’re cutting off that early ball from deep, or at least not allowing those wing backs to get into space beyond Bellerin and Tierney. If we can starve that by winning the ball back higher up the pitch, I think we win this game, but we haven’t been pressing as high and winning the ball back as much as any of us would like, so I hope that’s one of the key things Emery has been talking to his team about during the international break.
I haven’t in all my life gone into home games with as little expectation as I have this season, but the hope never leaves me, so come 3pm that’s what I’ll have for a win today.
Up the Arsenal.