The usual five talking points ahead today’s match at home to Southampton in the Premier League
Time to pick up some points
Southampton home, Norwich away, Brighton home and West Ham away are Arsenal’s next four Premier League fixtures. Given the distance between them and the top four, they need to be collecting 12 points here, 10 at a bare minimum. All should be winnable matches if the players can play to their potential. Sadly, that hasn't really happened yet so far this season there is a lot of doubt that it’s suddenly going to be any different.
The Xhaka question
The noises coming from Emery are that he wants to re-integrate his deposed captain into the starting eleven, after he turned out twice for Switzerland during the international break. The noises from Xhaka himself suggest he has no desire to play for the club again, and will seek a move in January. Interesting one this. Add to that the uncertainty of how the home crowd will react to Xhaka should he play. If he were on the bench, that offers the tricky situation of the player warming up in close proximity to the supporters, and getting abuse from some. It doesn’t actually help that Xhaka doesn't have any kind of chant that the crowd could sing to encourage and express some kind of a truce - which is the only way the player will have a future at the club. It’s difficult to see this one ending happily, and things could get worse than they are already for the team if Emery decides to expose the player in a home match. Better to get a win under their belts and bring him back against Norwich. Mind you, regardless of the fall-out, most fans would prefer to see Guendouzi and Torreira start. But Emery has his own view on that.
A return to four at the back makes space for Pepe
Do Arsenal need to play a back three in their next four league games? Given the opposition? Surely they need to play to their attacking strengths. A frontline of Auba, Laca and Pepe with Ozil behind, and Torreira and Guendouzi assisted by Bellerin and Tierney to help move the ball forward at pace. One assumes that David Luiz and Rob Holding would get the nod as the centre-backs.
Will Arsenal fans vote with their feet?
It’s fair to say that the view amongst the supporters on Unai Emery is more or less unanimous. This isn’t going to get any better. The faith, built upon the buzz on his arrival, the 22 match unbeaten run in the final months of 2018, and a very decent run to the Europa League final, has evaporated. New players have come in over the summer, yet the team are doing worse than in Emery’s first season. That isn’t progress. No-one sees a turnaround coming. Even if they were to put together a four game winning run, the acid test for most fans will be the trio of home matches over the festive period, when Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd are the visitors. Trips to Everton and Bournemouth are in the midst of those games. Add to this the possibility of Jose Mourinho creating a new manager bounce at Spurs and the noisy neighbours overtaking the Gunners in the table. It really isn’t looking good. As the swathes of empty seats for home games eventually did for Arsene, it’s difficult to see Emery surviving mass apathy – because TV images beamed around the world that tell the audience no-one thinks it’s worth spending 90 minutes watching Arsenal hurts the value of the club to sponsors. Ah yes – money is at stake here! That might make even Stan Kroenke aware that something’s not quite right. It will be interesting to see how many attend today – a Saturday 3pm kick off not on the TV.
If they can’t beat this lot…
Southampton have not won at Arsenal in the league since 1987. A long time (although there were a few years when the Saints were not in the top flight). They have enjoyed a couple of League Cup wins at the Emirates, but we are talking mix and match elevens here. Given that Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team infamously lost 9-0 at home to Leicester not so long ago (albeit playing most of the game with ten men) really makes this a game Emery simply has to win. Southampton lie in 19th place with eight points. Honestly, if Arsenal cannot win this match, it is difficult for anyone to justify Emery still being in employment on Monday morning.
Home win. Has to be. Maybe 3-1. If Emery does not start both Bellerin and Tierney he needs his head examined. If he starts Xhaka he is taking a big risk in terms of a supportive atmosphere. I suspect things will be quite muted, at least until Arsenal can open the scoring. And I am guessing that maybe 15,000 of the spectators due to attend will find better things to do. Surely Arsenal cannot fail to win this one, can they…?