No rest for the wicked as the Gunners (along with the other 19 teams, truth be told) prepare for their Boxing Day game against Southampton.
And despite Southampton’s atrocious recent form (1 point in 6 games, with only 2 goals scored during that run), I feel uneasy about this match. Maybe because I can’t recall the last time we had an easy game vs the Saints. Our 2-0 loss against them on New Year’s day will surely live long in memory.
Our record vs Southampton is not too shabby overall – just one loss in 11 meetings (6 wins, 4 draws). However our away record is much worse – just one win in the last 6 games (3 draws, 2 losses).
Right now we are arguably the in-form team. We left our wretched November behind us and won 3 games on the trot, while Southampton, as mentioned above, look very fragile and have recorded no wins in December (in three attempts). Their winless streak of 6 saw the Saints keep no clean sheets, score just twice, concede 9 and get spanked 6-1 by Liverpool in the cup on top of that.
All of this makes the Southampton a dangerous team to play right now. They resemble a wounded and cornered animal and should thus be approached with full concentration and very apprehensively. Furthermore, the quality of their squad suggests Koeman’s men can do much better.
It’s like someone lit the fuse with Saints being the powder barrel. I don’t want Arsenal to be near them when the thing explodes.
Team news and squad
No news is good news, eh? Damn, no. Sanchez and Arteta should have been back already, Wilshere too. None of them are, however, so we’ll have to make do with the players we have for at least another 3 games.
Frankly, I don’t see Wenger rotating much, if at all. Following a string of injuries in November, coupled with some bad results (the two may well be linked with one another, I suspect), Arsene seems to have settled on a formula which he fancies and which produces the desired results. He has played the exact same combination for 3 games in a row and I don’t think we’ll see it tweaked today. More likely the Bournemouth game is earmarked for rotation.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Flamini – Ramsey – Ozil – Walcott – Campbell – Giroud
Now that’s going to be an issue for us in 2 days. I suspect Cech and our back 4 will stay the same, simply because defenders don’t need a breather as much as other outfield players do (Gabriel is the only switch I can see Arsene making vs Bournemouth), things will get trickier further up field.
I’m pretty sure Ozil will get a rest, the question is, who in the current squad can do what he does? Without Cazorla and Rosicky we find ourselves in a hard spot. Oxlade seems to be messing up even easy passes these days, while none of our wingers are capable of doing a decent job at 10.
The only person who can come close to filling this hole is Aaron Ramsey, so I’m keeping everything crossed the Welshman, with his endless supply of energy will find a way to feature in both games. Luckily he should be relatively fresh, having returned to the squad less just a month ago.
We then have a question regarding our midfield pairing. Just like Ramsey, Flamini didn’t play a lot until a month or so ago, so here’s hoping he has enough left in the tank to play two games in two days. We can give Calum Chambers another shot alongside the Frenchman, while we can also try Oxlade-Chamberlain there. I doubt we’ll see Arteta, though, on whom Wenger said:
“It is the same calf injury, but every time I take a gamble and put him back in he has a set back
This time I was to be a little more cautious & get him to play one or 2 games in the reserves before he comes back and plays.”
However utilising Oxlade as an 8 deprives us of an opportunity to rotate our front three. While Walcott may not need it (the Englishman only started 3 games since his return), Giroud (started 12 games in a row) and Campbell (started 11 games in a row) may well need one. A tough dilemma for the manager.
“The confidence following a victory like the one against Manchester City of course increases dramatically. What you want to maintain is the urgency and remember how much a defeat hurts.
You have to take the positives out of a game to believe in your strengths. That balance between confidence and urgency has to be right.”
Simply put, today we need another top level performance. We can’t let our concentration levels drop even a little bit, because I’m sure Southampton will be looking to end their winless streak in front of their fans.
So come on you Gunners.
I’ll be back with you tomorrow, with a customary review of the game.