Writer: Galway Gooner
Date:Monday January 27 2014
Just over 2 months ago we hosted a Southampton team that were riding high on the crest of a wave of great football, great results and awash with love from all sides in the media. I remember a headline on the morning of the match had some Soton player saying that a two goal win at Arsenal would see them go top. At the time they had harvested 22 points from 11 games and were sitting 3rd in the table. While we didn`t exactly hand them out a lesson in football I think we beat them pretty comfortably and league games since then have seen them take only 8 points from following 10 games, plummeting to 9th in the league a full 20 points off the top, which interestingly enough is still us.
Confidence is a funny old thing and while I wouldn`t solely attribute the result of that game to where they currently are I think it is without doubt a key factor in their slide. Other things have gone on behind the scenes at the club but for me they have not played with anything like the same swagger going forward nor the same stability at the back that they had in the first 11 games. Two months ago there was talk of European football next season; now they must be looking over their shoulder and be maybe even a bit worried at the increase in points tally those at the bottom have made over the past few weeks. I don`t see Southampton getting relegated and I hope they don`t but 8 points from 11 games carried on for the remaining 17 games will give them a final tally of just around 43, which coming from where they were in late November would be far too close for comfort.
Anyway, their form over the last game or two hasn`t been bad and they at least seemed to have stopped the rot with a very welcome home win against West Brom and a draw at Sunderland. The game at Sunderland was one they should really have won as they were cruising at 2-0. Worryingly for them their defence, the rock on which their early league form was built, has been poor of late. To put how hard they were to break down into perspective in their first 11 games they leaked a measly 5 goals or just 0.45 per game, in their second 11 league games they`ve leaked 20 goals or 1.8 per game. Will the real Southampton please stand up?
Injuries wise they have had a bad run of late and it`s likely that both Lovern and Ramerz will join likely absentee Wayama in missing the game against us. They don`t have as many out as we do but their squad is less able to cope with losses. In fairness to them I think that they have done exceptionally well in establishing themselves in the Premier League and their attitude to games, not to mention the style of football that they play, should certainly be applauded however you do wonder if their high energy approach to games has started to catch up with them lately? The Premier League is pretty relentless and around the November/December time frame you do see a lot of clubs that started with the season with a bit of a bang start to fall away. Players get tired, the initial buzz of the new season falls away and as players tire they enter the dreaded "red-zone" and injuries occur. Now players will get kicked by other players and pick up knocks all the time, for evidence of this look up Wes Brown`s dreadful challenge on Ramierz that will keep him out of our game, but players are also far more likely to pick up little strains and pulls when their body is tired. And this is happening to Southampton a bit now.
Formation wise they play a similar 4-3-3 style to us in but they have nearly always used 2 defensive-minded midfielders are part of their middle 3. Wanyama had impressed in this role but he picked up a knock in early December and most probably won`t be back until early Feb. He`s been a
big loss to them and lacking his bite and the extra level of protection he offers at the back has been a factor in their loss of defensive stability. There is a chance he could make the game but its likely too soon for him and the extra few days rest will be of more benefit than rushing him back for such a tough game. More critically for them their back line has been impacted by the loss of Lovern, a real solid and committed defender and at only 24 one who has a very big future. I know we`re pretty sorted at the back with Per and Kos but this guy would be an excellent player to have on our books with the likely departure of Vermaelen in the summer. With Lovern out the Saints are likely Fonte (assuming he`s able to play with the broken nose supposedly inflicted by his Kal Drogo like teammate) with Hooiveld. While Fonte is a very good defender I know nothing about Hooiveld bar the fact that he`s only made 3 league appearances this season. He`s bound to make them weaker and I hope we can exploit this. Without wanting to wish an injury on a player Fonte having to miss out also would be a massive blow to them. The impressive (but still somewhat raw) Shaw and the just as good Clyne play either side to complete the back four. Boruc, who has recently begin to cost them points as opposed to winning them earlier in the season, will keep his place in goal.
Assuming that Wanyama misses out then I`d expect them to keep the same formation and drop Davis into his position, Davis is a decent player but lacks the physical strength of Wanyama and would not be playing in his natural position. The excellent and consistent Schneiderlin will partner whoever is asked to fill in. The front line will be lead by Lambert and support by Lallana, if they really want to go for it expect Ramirez to play opposite Lallana but they may go for safety first and play Ward-Prose and Cork allowing the dangerous Ramirez to come off the bench if required. Despite having more goals to his game than media-darling Lallana, Ramirez doesn`t seem to get the same level of attention but make no mistake about it, he is a dangerous player and warrants watching. Lallana flatters to deceive, certainly has the ability but doesn`t do it consistently enough for me, reminds me of a Russian player I used to know...
For us it looks like we`ll be without Art and Ramsey as both step up their recovery from injuries which means that Flamini will start behind the improving Jack W and Ozil. Santi, who has also shown in the last few games that he just maybe be getting close to his best, will get also get a run out. Poldi could well start on the left but I`ve a feeling Wenger will keep him to spring off the bench and, assuming Thomas R is fit will likely start ahead of Gnarby. Giroud will continue up front and while Bendy didn`t exactly have a good game on Friday I think he`ll still play a critical role before the season is out.
The lads have recovered from the minor blip just before Christmas and our league form once again looks very solid. Our back line looks really good and for the first time in a long, long time we have a keeper deserving of being the Arsenal #1. While the Saints look like they are on the way to stopping their slide down the table I think the injuries they`ve picked up combined with a lot of uncertainty about the club means this game comes at the wrong time for them. Osvaldo has a reputation as being a bit of a hot head and while minor scuffles take place with surprising regularity during training head-butting a team mate and breaking his nose is a bit of a rarity. Sometimes things like this (combined with the negativity over their new general manager - a woman no less!) helps to build an "us Vs them" type mentality at the club but sometimes they are simply a sign that no everything is as rosy as it could be at the club. I don`t think there`s a chance of Southampton going down but I also don`t think they have the team to beat us. So once again I`m plugging for an Arsenal win, same score line as earlier in the season.
Arsenal to win, 0-2.
Date:Monday January 27 2014
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