The week before the international break was a tough one for the Gunners with some high profile fixtures but they came through it with reasonably good results. The next game is against a club that doesn’t have as big a name as the preceding trio but will undeniably pose as big a challenge.
Defensive solidity, derived from team work, structure, and discipline, has given the Saints an excellent platform from which to contest their games. If you can’t win, don’t lose. And Southampton are slowly becoming very good at not losing. It’s given them confidence and they’ve gone on to convert many tough fixtures into noteworthy results.
It’s too early right now, and the levels are vastly different, but in terms of playing style Southampton are a bit like the Premier League’s Dortmund. They are energetic, press cohesively, and make it very hard for opponents to build their attacks through the midfield. In attack, the Saints rely on combination plays with the attacking midfielder and left winger often looking to make runs in behind while the striker is developing into a very useful all-round contributor.
In tactical terms then, the Gunners will face similar problems as those posed by the Germans in the Champions League, although United probably executed the game plan even better when they denied the Arsenal players any time or space on the ball. Southampton will attempt to repeat that and the first half, in particular, could be a very tight affair. Wenger’s side will have to, firstly, make sure they don’t lose possession cheaply in areas conducive to quick transitions. Then they’ll have to work hard without the ball to get into spaces that will only appear fleetingly. The success of this and their technical efficiency will determine how quickly they can move the ball. That will form the crux of their offensive game. A quick tempo will be absolutely vital to getting past the first line of defence in order to push their back four deep or get in behind.
Southampton’s back four have received plaudits this season for keeping their goal secure and Boruc behind them has been excellent in games when he’s been called into action, but I have a feeling they can be troubled if Arsenal can break their well-spaced, cohesively moving pressing system.
At the back, the Gunners will have to watch for clever one-twos and runners getting in behind from wide areas or the midfield. The players worked hard against Dortmund and were able to defend the crucial zones and once again Arteta’s role is likely to be decisive. Concentration is easier to maintain when playing against bigger names but could prove equally costly if lost against intelligent and technically adept, even if less renowned, individuals from relatively smaller teams.
Southampton have also retained their previous strength of back post crosses and Lambert provides a good target in the box. I won’t be surprised if he pulls towards the back post to duel with the full-backs in the air, particularly Gibbs. Arsenal will have to deal with his knock downs because the visitors’ well-knit system means they can get bodies forward in numbers.
A couple of players returning from injury provide more options to Wenger but lack of match fitness will probably limit their chances of starting this game.
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Ozil, Ramsey – Wilshere, Giroud, Cazorla.
Gnabry and Rosicky are other options for the right flank. I’d prefer the German youngster because he can bring something different to the attack in terms of engaging defenders and going behind them. Wenger will probably prefer the more experienced Czech star if he’s fit.
Walcott could be a decisive substitute in the final half hour or so if the game remains tight.
This game has that banana-skin feel to it because the opponents don’t have much to lose and are on a run of form where everything seems to be clicking for them. For that reason, three points would be immensely enjoyable and could help consolidate the lead at the top but should not be taken for granted.Follow @goonerdesi