The usual five talking points ahead of today’s Premier League match away to Southampton
The central defence
It will be a major surprise if, through lack of alternative options, Laurent Koscielny does not start. The question is who lines up alongside him and whether Unai Emery continues with a back five. My thought is that the head coach will want to continue with the current formation, and that we’ll see Monreal and Lichtsteiner either side of him. It’s not ideal, but both are experienced players who have played as one of a three at the back so know the role. One imagines a youngster like Zech Medley will be on the bench for cover, and in emergencies, Mohammed Elneny has played as the cental player in the back three. I tell you what though, it has a feeling of Chelsea v Arsenal early in 1991, the one league game the ‘almost invincibles’ suffered defeat in. Let’s hope not, but we have to take account of…
The new manager bounce
I have to admit to scratching my head when Southampton appointed Mark Hughes last season. Just sacked for leading Stoke into the relegation mire, he almost took the Saints down as well. A dinosaur manager who joins the likes of Alan Pardew as a man whose time the game has passed. Now they have Ralph Hasenhuttl, who was one of the names mentioned when the search for Arsene Wenger’s successor was being played out in the media. He build a reputation in two seasons at RB Leipzig before departing at the end of last season as the club would not guarantee him a contract extension past the current campaign. So far he has only been in charge for one game – an away defeat at Cardiff. This will be his first home match, and there’s a little pre-match prep for the Saints’ 12th man…
But sadly, only in the home sections. A free beer token will be provided to the Saints fans, apparently funded by their new manager (yeah, right – sounds like a PR idea to me – that isn’t coming out of his wages). Still, it’s one way to get the fans on board, although after Mark Hughes, I suspect they will welcome pretty much anyone else with open arms. It would be nice if this gesture was extended to the away section, although let’s face it… stadium draught beer is invariably undrinkable.
So who starts upfront?
To throw a curved ball into this one, there is a slight possibility, given the rather improvised nature of the back three, that Unai Emery might field all three of Torreira, Xhaka and Guendouzi, and settle for a pair of attacking players, at least for the opening 45 minutes. That would be Aubameyang plus one (Lacazette being the obvious choice). But if Guendouzi does not start, we might see Laca come on from the bench and Iwobi and Mkhitaryan play either side of Auba. Mesut Ozil? On the bench. Emery won’t even consider using him until Wenger-time (that’s the 70th minute). Laca and Ramsey will be introduced before the German playmaker.
Not always a happy hunting ground
Arsenal have visited the St Mary’s Stadium on 11 occasions since the Saints moved there in the summer of 2001. An FA Cup match in January 2017 was a triumphant 5-0 away win. In the league, there have been three wins, four draws and three defeats. So historically, it’s been a tough one to call. The form guide suggests an away win, but we just cannot predict how much the new manager has galvanised and organised his men in the week since the defeat at Cardiff. If Arsenal were at full strength at the back, I’d be more confident.
I am concerned, and don’t want to be too optimistic as I can see this game going all over the shop. A very good chance of both sides scoring. I’m going to predict a 2-2 draw for this one.
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