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Momentum of Back Four or Solidity of Three for St Mary’s? That is the Question!

It’s a visit to St. Mary’s today, and it marks the beginning of a somewhat simpler run of fixtures for the Gunners.

Our only top 6 team this calendar year is going to be Liverpool on December 22. The we face Chelsea on January 3, with games against Palace and West Brom sandwiched in-between. Spurs come in February.

However a trip to Southampton has me sufficiently worried. They have largely been a blunt force up top until now, scoring just 15 goals in 16 matches. The Saints are 13 in the league table in this regard, behind teams like Stoke and Watford.

Their defence, though, while conceding 18 times, is top 7 in the league in this regard. The Saints have actually conceded one fewer than us, and their xG conceded is bang on the money, matching the number of actual goals let in.

But we know how stubborn Southampton can be when Arsenal comes to town. Some of the defeats we’ve suffered there will live long in the memory for various reasons. Fraser Forster can be a particular eyesore, as it turns out he conceded 5 in the last 5 matches vs Arsenal, despite facing 30 shots on target.

The light at the end of the tunnel is provided by several factors. Firstly, we have won at St. Mary’s last season, during our heroic but insufficient effort to reach the top 4. Secondly, we absolutely smashed them in the cup this January. Finally, we have handed out two bashings this week, to Huddersfield and Bate, while absolutely pummeling United in terms of shots.

This does feel like we’ve found our attacking verve, something we can hopefully continue to demonstrate today.

Can we carry that momentum into today’s game?

Team news update

Shkodran Mustafi will be our only absentee:

“The only one out at the moment is Mustafi. He is certainly not available for Sunday. There’s a little chance of him coming back for West Ham, but he will not be available for Sunday.”Arsene Wenger

There also appeared to be some doubts as to Walcott’s availability, but the Englishman should be fine. Not that I’m really concerned, we have enough options in attack for Walcott potentially to be left out of the squad entirely.

Squad

I’m really interested in whether Wenger will stick to a back four. There are several reasons the Frenchman might be tempted to do that.

Firstly, playing with a back four we tore BATE a new one, and there were second-string players involved, with a smattering of youngsters on the bench.

Secondly, our pummelling of United in terms of chances and shots didn’t go unnoticed by Arsene Wenger:

“It’s my preferred system, four at the back,” he said, “but I adjust always to what suits the players best, the quality of the players, the balance of the team.

“I changed against Man United, because we were 2-0 down and put an offensive player on because we had to come back. But it can change.”

On the United game, Wenger continued, “We had a very strong creative performance with a high, high number of expected goals.”

Finally, Southampton don’t pose much of an attacking threat in the league this season. They have only scored 10 in 8 home games, though of course we’ll have to be wary of Charlie Austin. The Englishman recovered for the Saints’ last game and scored.

Will Wenger go back to 4 defenders?

Mustafi’s absence might further play into the manager’s thinking here. It doesn’t look like Arsene trusts Holding or Chambers enough to start either. It leaves us with Per Mertesacker as the third centre-back, a choice I’m personally fine with. However the speed with which Wenger dropped our experienced skipper to field the freshly-recovered Mustafi (for the derby no less), gives me pause for thought.

Will Wenger view Soton’s poor attacking form, coupled with our enhanced threat in the final third as a chance to go 4 at the back for the third time this week? It’s hard to second-guess our manager. The problem I see with going back to a 4-2-3-1 is that Ramsey still plays further back, while Ozil is undroppable in the ten position. Unless Wenger decides to give Jack Wilshere or Alex Iwobi a go on the wing, he’ll be restricted to … probably just Welbeck.

So I think we’ll see three at the back once again, with Mertesacker in for Mustafi. Wilshere and Iwobi will remain options from the bench, just as Welbeck will.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Monreal – Bellerin – Ramsey – Xhaka – Kolasinac – Ozil – Alexis – Lacazette

Lacazette should be chomping at the bit after United

The verdict

I have no doubt Southampton will prove a tricky opponent. Like Stoke away, they seem to have it in for us, fighting tooth and nail every time we come visiting.

However the Gunners will come into this game pumped up by the injustice of what happened against United, confident they can do a job on Southampton the same way they did a job on Huddersfield last week. At least I hope they will.

What we should have learnt from last Saturday is to not make stupid defensive mistakes. I have more confidence this time around: Koscielny has been rested in midweek, Mertesacker is more measured in his approach to defensive duties than Shkodran Mustafi.

Finally, Alexandre Lacazette will be an interesting figure to watch. His xG against United was 3, he had two legitimate penalty claims turned down and I think he will be chomping at the bit more than anyone from our attacking group. He hasn’t scored a brace for us up until now, let alone a hattrick. Today will be a good day to rectify that.

So come on you Gunners.

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