Club football is back again and thank Christ for that. It feels like every Interlull is worse than the previous. I’m sure that’s my memory playing tricks on me, there’s no obvious reason why the breaks could be getting increasingly frustrating, but there you go.
Anyway, we have a delicious Saturday of footy ahead. There’s the Manchester derby scheduled for early kick off (with managers who genuinely despise each other either side), Liverpool vs Leicester in the evening and the small matter of Arsenal hosting Southampton in-between. Ahem.
What gives me grounds for optimism, however, is that our squad looks pretty decent, both quality and quantity-wise. We even had to trim it a little bit by allowing Chambers, Wilshere and Campbell to go on season-long loans, extending Szczesny’s and selling Gnabry to Bayern. Before we stray too far, let me direct you to the usual quality piece from Tim Stillman here, in which Tim gives his take on Wilshere’s move to the south coast.
So now we have a shiny 25-man squad ready for a long season which lies ahead (Arsene even included Sanogo for a bit of bantz). However before you get all red in the face and start pulling hair out in huge chunks, a timely reminder from yours truly is necessary: none of Bellerin, Holding, Iwobi or Akpom had to be registered, as none turned 21 yet. So Sanogo is likely here to just make up the numbers. Of course our 25-man team includes Welbeck, Mertesacker and Jenkinson, as all three are due to return eventually.
But everyone else is pretty much healthy … almost. Let’s find out who won’t take part in the upcoming clash.
Team news update
On top of the trio mentioned we’ll face Puel’s men without having Aaron Ramsey and most likely Gabriel:
“The only one who is not ready is Aaron Ramsey. He is on the a good way, but not completely ready for Southampton or Tuesday.”
Something about no strings attached. No, seriously, Rambo misses a lot of games through hamstring injuries, only the severity vary from a month to several months. Hope the Welshman recovers inside the next week, we really can’t have him lying in pieces, especially now that Wilshere is a hundred miles away from Colney.
Iwobi was passed fit, meaning he is available for selection should Arsene pick him. Finally, Gabriel wasn’t mentioned, but as far as I can tell (judging by the training ground pics), he is fit or nearly fit. That’s just 5 weeks after the Brazilian went down in a heap in our friendly vs City. It looked spectacularly bad from the outside, especially when Gabriel couldn’t walk and had to be stretched off. However he appeared to have healed even faster than Wenger estimated at the time, which provides us with a handy alternative.
Arsenal have been less-than-successful in overcoming Southampton in the last two seasons: one win in 4 games with one goal scored is a testament to that. Even if we look back 3 seasons we’ll find out Arsenal still recorded one win, this time in 6 games. Not pretty.
However, there’s reason to believe we will be the better side come Saturday. Koeman’s Southampton was uncomfortable opposition to us, but the Dutch is no longer at the helm. Sure, now the Everton games are about to go up a notch, however Puel’s Southampton is not as formidable, at least at the current stage. The Saints only managed two points in three games, both coming at home, one against Watford and Sunderland apiece. Let’s hope we can capitalize on their transition period.
How our squad shapes up is a fascinating subject, one which is going to provide us with enough material for discussions. Arsenal are almost at full strength now and up until Christmas. How Arsene moves the pieces of this particular jigsaw is interesting.
Regarding the upcoming game, there are three main choices Arsene has to make: who plays alongside Koscielny, whether Xhaka keeps his place in central midfield, and how the front three is going to shape up.
Mustafi’s experience and price tag command he starts, and I’m certain he and Kos is the pair we’ll see most this season, but in the short-term perspective, Holding might still start once or twice, to allow Mustafi some breathing space.
Xhaka or Coquelin is another fine dilemma. If we are going to try and pin Southampton down for most of the game, then Xhaka is the more likely to start. If there’s a chance Southampton might try to take the game to us, then Coquelin is the better option.
Finally, I don’t have the faintest idea who we’ll see as our front three men, and that’s delicious. I’m not even sure Alexis will start, as he only returned to London on Thursday evening. On top of that Arsene stressed he’s bought Perez to utilise him primarily down the middle, so Giroud’s position is not safe either:
“I see him more centrally, especially that’s why I bought him. He had big success because he changed position and he has been moved central. He’s a left-footed player who has good movement and good link play as well.
He’s not only a goalscorer, he’s good in assists as well and because he has played on the flanks before, he can give a good cross. He has a short backlift and is very dangerous in the box.
He can play on the flanks because he has done it before. But my target was more to add one more player who can play through the middle.”
Sweet. Apart from Alexis, Giroud and Perez, Arsene also has Walcott, Oxlade and Iwobi at the ready, all providing us with different options and all used extensively lately. You can make a case for any of them starting.
If I were to take a rough guess, I’d put money on Alexis, Walcott and Giroud starting the game. Iwobi is just back from injury, he’s young, so overplaying him isn’t a good idea, finally if we start Ozil, Cazorla and Xhaka in midfield, we are going to have enough creators without having to add another on the wing.
Oxlade has been a bit hit-and-miss, didn’t start the first game and offers qualities similar to Alexis. I doubt both will start simultaneously, so money’s on Alexis. Finally, Jeremy Wilson reckons Perez will only be a sub (he also thinks the same about Iwobi) and that makes sense: I doubt Perez is ready to start straight away. He needs time, maybe more so than Mustafi, seeing as Shkodran earlier played for Everton and has at least some Premier League experience.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Xhaka – Cazorla – Ozil – Walcott – Alexis – Giroud
We have enough strength in depth and enough quality players which have something different to offer to pull off a win here. Southampton are still finding their feet under the guidance of a new manager and recouping after having lost Mane and Wanyama.
While I don’t expect the game to be a cakewalk, it shouldn’t be as challenging as facing Koeman’s Southampton has been. Here’s for another 3 points to continue our revival and for Arsene to figure out the best possible combination of players at his disposal.
Come on you Gunners.
Back with a review