Arsenal v Southampton: Tactical Preview, Probable XI And Score Prediction
Southampton arrive at the Emirates this afternoon with Arsenal looking to build on victory at Anfield. The Saint’s visit also presents an opportunity for their former player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to take on his old club.
For the first time in 88 years, Arsenal have begun a new league campaign with three clean sheets. It’s an event rarer than the sighting of Halley’s comet and leaves the Gunners as the only remaining team in the Premier League not to have conceded after 270 minutes of football. In stark contrast, Southampton are bottom of the table with three losses out of three and the second worst defensive record in the league, having shipped eight goals already.
The stats don’t paint an accurate picture though. Two of the Saints’ losses came against the Manchester clubs and in both games they were in a position to take all three points. Especially against United, they looked dangerous on the ball and disciplined off it until the final ten minutes of the game. They’ve played some good football on the counter attack and Arsenal will have to be wary of committing too many players forward.
The visitors could be without the services of left-back Danny Fox while new recruits Gaston Ramirez and Maya Yoshida have a chance to makes their debuts. However, assuming Fox is fit, Nigel Adkins is likely to start with the same team that went down to United prior to the international break. So far this season, the Southampton manager has preferred to set his team up in a 4-5-1 system that relies on keeping things tight in midfield with the wide players pushing up in support when they win the ball.
For Arsenal, Abou Diaby is rated as 50-50. With games coming thick and fast from here on, the manager will be hesitant to take any chances unless the French midfielder is 100% fit. Wojciech Szczesny is back in contention and despite two clean sheets by Vito Mannone, the Pole is expected to start between the sticks. Theo Walcott is likely to recover from a virus so he should be part of the squad as well.
If Diaby is unable to start, it will be interesting to see who Arsene Wenger prefers in midfield. As a straight swap, either Aaron Ramsey or Francis Coquelin could take the Frenchman’s place. While neither are in the Diaby mould, both are capable of influencing the game. Ramsey will have more of an impact going forward while Coquelin has better defensive abilities so who gets to start will depend upon how the manager sees the game unfolding.
Alternately, there is the possibility that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be played alongside Arteta. Like Diaby, the former Saints’ youngster has the ability to power through the midfield carrying the ball. He also displayed good work rate against Liverpool and importantly, he’s also played in that position before – notably against AC Milan in that famous defeat last season and more recently during Arsenal’s pre-season tour.
Personally, I think Arsene will start AOC in midfield and introduce the pace and trickery of Gervinho on the right-wing. The former Lille striker was poor against Stoke but a goal for Ivory Coast during the international break will have helped his confidence. From the bench, Walcott, Ramsey and Coquelin will all provide options to change things around if required.
Predictably, Arsenal will dominate possession throughout the game. Cazorla will again provide attacking impetus, the Spaniard hoping to cement his growing understanding with Lukas Podolski while also bringing Olivier Giroud and the right-sided winger into play. The Saints’ five-man midfield will try to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm so Arteta and AOC (or whoever plays in place of Diaby) will have to move the ball quickly and efficiently.
Interestingly, although Saints are a more attack minded team, their strengths going forward are quite different from those of the Gunners. Whereas Arsenal currently lead the league with 15 dribbles a game, Southampton are only ahead of Stoke at the bottom of the pile with just 2.7 dribbles per match. The visitors’ attacking threat is centred around quick passing and good movement on counter attacks combined with efficient finishing, especially by the in-form Rickie Lambert. This is highlighted by the fact that so far, Lambert has managed to direct five out of his six attempts on target.
This means that from a defensive perspective, we may see a change of tactics from those at Anfield. Then, Arsenal’s defenders backed off Liverpool’s front men, unwilling to risk being run past by the tricky Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. Today, I expect the Gunners’ defense to mark Southampton’s attacking players more tightly and hold a higher line as the Saints are not as adept at dribbling past. But considering the difficulties we faced last season when we lost the ball while pushing up, it’ll be interesting to see the positioning of the deep-lying midfielders during Arsenal’s attacking phases.
The other thing Arsenal must watch out for is the Saints’ threat from crosses. Although Southampton win a low percentage of their aerial duels in the final third, their wide players are capable of dangerous deliveries when allowed time on the ball. This was evident in their two goals against United, both coming from balls whipped in from just outside the area. Arsenal’s midfield will need to close down the ball carrier quickly so that the likes of Puncheon and Lallana don’t get time to find Lambert in the box.
On the flip side, all the three goals that Southampton conceded to Robin van Persie were a direct result of crosses as well. Although Arsenal rely more on link-up play to create chances, Olivier Giroud’s physical presence and movement could prove important in this match. But in order for the French striker to be effective, Giroud will require early crosses into the box. If Walcott has fully recovered, Arsene may even opt to start the Englishman ahead of Gervinho considering Theo’s ability to run towards the byline and square balls across goal.
Home advantage, three clean sheets and confidence running high – everything points to an Arsenal victory. Having said that, Southampton have goals in them so if the Gunners want to avoid slipping on a potential banana skin, the work rate and determination shown at Liverpool will be required today as well.
One last point – Southampton have conceded half of their eight goals in the last 15 minutes of matches. Even if Arsenal fail to score early, the team should remain patient and resist the temptation of throwing too many bodies forward too soon.
I would love another clean sheet but our attacking intent could leave us vulnerable at the back. Despite that, we should have enough to get past Southampton. My prediction is 3-1 to the Arsenal, with Giroud opening his Gunners’ account.
Back with the match analysis tomorrow. Enjoy the game.