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Xhaka and Koscielny to miss out – Balancing the Squad is Key for the vists to St Marys

It’s Southampton away in a couple of hours as our unlikely quest for a top 4 spot continues.

The Saints have become somewhat a bogey team for Arsenal lately, with the Gunners losing the previous two league fixtures at St. Mary’s. Both were notable losses too: the first made the manager drop Szczesny and subsequently ship him out on loan, the second was a humiliating 4-0 drubbing. Indeed, the Gunners have failed to win any of the last five away league games vs Stoton, and even lost a couple at home in the league cup.

However only this January Wenger’s men had the Saints chasing shadows in the 5-0 bruising FA Cup defeat, an away game at that. Plus, the only slim hope we have of making the top 4 will be dead and buried if we drop points today. The Bookies certainly have us as firm favourites and you can find all the best betting sites at http://bettingtop10.com/  If potential Champions League football is not enough for the players to turn up, I don’t know what is.

On to team news.

Team news update

Will Perez make the bench at least?

Lucas Perez, who has recently expressed his disappointment at lack of playing time, will finally be fit and available. Arsene has also, quite strangely, sympathised with the Spaniard’s situation:

“He’s a top-quality striker and I couldn’t give him the games that he wants and that he deserves. I must confess that. I feel sorry for him on that front.”

The obvious solution here, one well within Wenger’s reach, is to play Lucas more often. There was a point not so long ago when I was tearing my hair out at the ineffectiveness of Walcott and Giroud, yet Perez was nowhere to be seen. Wenger preferred to play anyone before he played Lucas.

The formation switch complicates matters even further. I doubt Alexis or Ozil are being shifted from their positions anytime soon, so that leaves centre-forward as the only other way in for Lucas. Given Giroud’s ongoing patchy form and Theo’s less-than-stellar contributions, I’d like for Wenger to give Lucas a chance ahead of both – but that still leaves Welbeck as the de-facto starter. Hopefully Lucas makes the bench at least though.

In other news, Koscielny’s achilles remains an issue, while Xhaka is still nursing his ankle. Mercifully, they were pictured in full training along with Lucas, so fingers crossed they shrugged the niggles off. We have a clean bill of health otherwise.

Need Xhaka to recover

Squad

With a visit to Mordor on the horizon, I do wonder how Arsene is going to manage the squad. We play four games in 11 days starting today and I don’t think the same eleven can pull it off.

Equally, it will be hard to drop players of importance, knowing how stern of a test Soton usually provide. I assume we’ll see Cech, Holding and Koscielny at the back, with hopefully Mustafi complementing the back three. Alternatively, I can see Mustafi deputising for Kos, in case one Frenchman decides to rest the other.

Ox is going nowhere from his wing-back position, but I’d really, really like to see Monreal on the other wing. The Spaniard was exceptional in this role vs City and I was surprised to see him as part of the back three against Leicester. However we also have to keep in mind it might be worth giving Monreal a breather altogether. Nacho started 31 league games this season.

Apart from re-introducing Mustafi I don’t think Wenger should tamper with anything else. Provided Xhaka is fit and ready. Otherwise it’s a pain, as Ramsey and Coquelin are incompatible. Perhaps we might see Elneny then. Or Iwobi, though the Nigerian looks to have fallen out of favour completely.

Ozil, Alexis and Welbeck should be the last three pieces of the puzzle.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Mustafi – Koscielny – Holding – Oxlade – Ramsey – Xhaka – Monreal – Ozil – Alexis – Welbeck

A welcome return for the German

The verdict

It’s fair to say Southampton haven’t been hugely impressive lately. Puel’s men are winless in four games, drawing two and losing two. They also have a dire recent home record – two wins in eight matches with only nine goals scored.

However our record away from home is even worse – five losses in six attempts. Boro were the only side we’ve got the better against – a side relegated a couple of days ago. The only thing which fills me with a degree of positivity is our recent tactical switch. Tottenham still wiped the floor with us, but that game aside, the formation bore fruit.

I don’t doubt Wenger will stick to it. Introducing Holding to the equation made our defence look more stable. It can be further solidified by adding Mustafi, something I hope Arsene will do tonight. The rest of the side has been balanced pretty neatly though, with players looking more at home in the new formation.

Here’s to another win today.

Come on you Gunners.

Back to review the game.

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