Morning folks and welcome to another match day in quick succession, just five days after our last match day and an opportunity for the Arsenal players to expunge the bad memories left by the Brighton debacle.
I would be lying if I told you that I was optimistic about tonight’s game. We have a terrible record at St Mary’s, regardless of whether Southampton have been high flying or in a relegation dogfight and if I’m honest, I don’t put that down to the fact that they have a particularly vociferous crowd there. I think Southampton just seem to have some kind of hoodoo over us.
We’ve seen the Szczesny smoking in the changing room game, a game in which our very own Soares scored a worldie against us, as well as a defeat last season with a Koscielny clearly not fit and at fault for at least one of the goals. That match also had Lichtsteiner playing at centre half I believe and so perhaps it’s not that Southampton are amazing, but more that we seem to play them with a decimated squad each season.
That’s sort of the case today, although thankfully it appears that we do have at least one player back quickly, in the shape of Granit Xhaka, who I think is a big player in the way Arteta sets his side up.
Think about it; who is the player that usually picks the ball up from the defence to build our moves? Granit Xhaka. His injury early against City threw our game plan, but his absence against Brighton also meant Ceballos and Guendouzi doing the Xhaka role, nothing of whom really managed to succeed in. So having the Swiss back will be a boost to Arteta’s plans, even though there are plenty of Arsenal fans who would disagree, which is their prerogative.
Personally I think it strengthens us and with Leno out, Mari out, Luiz out, Ozil a question mark. Martinelli out, we need as much strengthening as possible. Southampton have had six days off to prepare for this game and having smashed Norwich 3-0 away from home they look sharp, the intensity of their manager in his playing style seems to have picked up, as well as the fact they’ve got a practically full and clean bill of help I believe. Southampton will look to start this game quickly, they’ll look to use the likes of Redmond and Ings to expose our back line and they’ll certainly be given opportunities tonight. Bernd Leno was the highest ranking goalkeeping in the Premier League for a reason: we give far too many chances away. That’s also why this morning we sit in 11th, nINE points off fifth, with a goal difference of ZERO and potentially, unless we win, looking at Burnley being above us in the table. We have so far this season delivered turgid performance after turgid performance but Arteta needs to see signs of improvement from some of those players and that’s what I’m hoping for tonight.
I personally think the season is well and truly over now, so really it’s about seeing the signs that there could be something about this team for next season. That’s why I’m hoping that Arteta gives it a bit of a shuffle tonight. I hope we see Nketiah through the middle. Well, I actually hope for Auba through the middle but we know that’s never going to happen, so Nketiah is the next best thing. Let’s also see if Pepe can build on his impressive performance because he should be at the club next season too. Hopefully Saka with a new contract will as well, so I hope he continues in the midfield, with Xhaka and then Guendouzi. Ceballos has no future at Arsenal so in my opinion should be used sparingly. But Willock should be given more chances. Given the season is redundant I’d be giving him as many minutes as possible because I’m just not sure he’ll ever make it at The Arsenal. But we have to give him the opportunity to try.
That’s why I’m hoping to see Holding in central defence too. I think we’ll see Mustafi, but Holding needs games to prove he can be the impressive player we saw two years ago. If he can’t replicate that format then a tough decision might need to be made on him. But we need to see the evidence first, so I hope Arteta does just that with his team tonight.
Like I say, I think the game at the weekend all but sealed our fate and that will almost be rubber stamped unless we get anything else other than a win. I can’t see us winning this game without a creative player who brings midfield and attack together by linking the two, so I’m expecting more of the same – sadly – when we come up against a Southampton side who are miles better than a very poor Brighton team.
Hopefully I’m proved wrong. Hopefully the players have been galvanised by another few days together and with the sense of injustice from the Brighton game, they are fired up for this. HOPEFULLY. That’s all I have. HOPE.
Catch you guys tomorrow.