A good win just before a break from action often creates an atmosphere of positivity around a club just as a disappointment can cast clouds of gloom. In either case the sentiment amongst the fans could prove unjustified when football resumes. Arsenal will have to show this isn’t one of those scenarios.
The win at Anfield and a strong defensive performance brought relief to many anxious Gooners after a couple of goalless draws at the start. But this game will be different. It’s arguably Arsenal’s first must-win fixture of the season. While the club should naturally aim to win every tie it participates in, against Sunderland one could accept the reason that new signings needed time to gel. Stoke away is always a tough fixture. The win at Liverpool was superb but many fans would not have been surprised if points had been dropped. That brings us to Southampton at home.
The visitors have played some entertaining football but are currently propping up the Premier League table with three losses. Nigel Adkins is the only manager yet to pick up a point this season. His side have allowed the most shots on target and have conceded eight goals.
The new Gunners have now had three games together and the goals at Anfield showed they’re beginning to read each others’ mind on the pitch. That means Arsenal don’t really have any excuses for not winning this game.
Nevertheless, as the cliché goes, no Premier League game is easy. Southampton lost against the two Manchester giants by the odd goal in five. They weren’t pushovers. Arsenal will have to perform to get the points.
This could actually be a very entertaining game. The visitors have shaped up as a ball-playing side but haven’t been as meticulously organized as some of the smaller teams have to be in order to survive. All their opponents thus far found numerous opportunities to create and score. They leave gaps on the flanks and often down the middle as well. Quick interchange of passes around the box will unlock their defence, unless Adkins has really had a chance of working at it over the international break. Gooners should be able to better judge new-look Arsenal’s creativity, understanding, and finishing skills after this game.
That said, Adkins has created a side that can hold on to the ball once it wins possession back. They offer a good threat from outside the box and from crosses into the box, especially at the back post. Sir Alex mentioned, after the win over Southampton, that his side were aware of their threat at the back post but still conceded two goals.
Thus, this game could also be Arsenal’s biggest defensive challenge yet. Theoretically, Liverpool should have been a bigger threat but they lacked ideas and incision in the final third. Southampton will attack more as a team as their players have demonstrated a clear grasp of the manager’s attacking principles and link effortlessly at times.
Against the Reds the Gunners were able to drop deep without really facing an aerial threat, Sunderland hardly got any bodies forward, while Stoke’s single trick was negated effectively by strong challenges to the first and second balls; but Southampton are likely to find a way to test the Keeper as they play a purposeful crossing game and can hit the target through venomous strikes from distance. They also have a couple of individuals who can turn opponents and win individual battles in tight spaces. On the whole the visitors will provide multiple points of attack that will demand resolute defending with unwavering concentration. To be very specific, Arsenal will have to ensure they do not give the visitors time and space on the ball in a five to ten yard radius around the edge of the penalty box. Once again that will mean the midfield and wide players have to be on top of their defensive game.
Up front, Cazorla should not have difficulty in finding pockets of space, Podolski should be able to drift into gaps in the left channel or centrally, and Giroud should get opportunities to run in behind. By now you must have seen this stat,
Sounds ominous for Giroud but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
All-in-all I expect a very open encounter with chances for both sides. Mistakes at the back and/or moments of quality on the ball will be decisive. This is a must-win game for the Gunners but it won’t be a game they’ll win just by turning up.
With that in mind, Wenger’s team selection is going to be interesting. The Gunners now have seven games in the next three weeks. Only one of those is a League Cup game where first team players could expect a breather. For the other six Arsene will have to balance his resources that are still somewhat limited by injuries and form.
It’s quite likely that Wenger will want to start this run of games on a high. That would imply as few changes as possible. If there’s a question mark over Diaby’s fitness, Coquelin or Ramsey might come into the starting eleven. I’m not completely convinced about either choice at the moment but, with due respect, if they can’t perform against Southampton they won’t be able to offer much against most other teams.
Szczesny might come back in goal if he is completely fit. Gervinho in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain is another possibility, especially given the youngsters exertions for England.
One big headache for Arsene will be the role of the central striker. As the season progresses he’ll probably want Podolski there as Giroud clearly needs more time but the German is tactically better suited to the role on the left. Nonetheless, over the course of the season Arsene will have to rotate his strikers and for that he’ll have to get more from Poldi down the middle. This game might be too soon for such changes though, as these players have only begun to show glimpses of developing an understanding.
We might see,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Coquelin – Gervinho, Giroud, Podolski.
The full-backs will have a tough time in this game, especially Jenkinson. Some fans might also want to see Santos given a game with Gibbs getting a breather but to me the youngster deserves a run of games and he’s had a break during the international week.
Koscielny for Mertesacker is also an option. It probably depends on whether the manager is happy to rotate his three centre backs or if he has a partnership in mind and wants to stick to it as often as possible.
Going back to last season the Gunner have picked up 3 points from their last 4 home games. Arsenal have never gone five League games without a win at home under Wenger. What happens next?
Before ending I want to share this video where Le Boss talks about the different languages he knows, the importance of learning languages to understand cultures and create a better team dynamic, and he shares some delightful anecdotes. Thanks to Shrek2be for sharing it.Follow @goonerdesi