We take on Southampton today, looking to build on the back-to-back league wins and a midweek bashing of CSKA.
Even though Southampton have lost consecutive games with an identical 3-0 scoreline (to West Ham and Newcastle no less), I’m still wary of the threat they pose. A number of our recent clashes come to mind, and the only positive one was a slender 1-0 from a late Sanchez goal.
However on the upside, the Gunners appear to have picked up some steam, plus Southampton’s bad form sees them stationed in the relegation zone, in a heated scrap to stay up. So far Mark Hughes has done a less-than-stellar job (which warms my heart), but in the Premier League you just never know.
Like I said, the Saints have become something of a bogey opponent for us. I think anything less than full concentration can see us pay with dropped points. It is debatable just how much we need to win every single game, as we will most surely finish outside the top 4 anyway, but losing is never pleasant nonetheless. Considering CSKA are still in with a bit of a chance, I’d rather we not lose right before facing them again.
Team news update
Santi Cazorla wasn’t alone for long. He is now joined by David Ospina and, more worryingly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The former seems to have picked up in injury in training, right before the CSKA game, and is likely to miss a couple of weeks:
“He will be out for two to three weeks. Yesterday (Weds) we were scared it was a very serious injury but the scan was reassuring. Yes [he did it in training] – he just moved back from a shot and sprained his ankle, without any contact. It was just a bad movement.” – Arsene Wenger
This does leave Cech as our only senior keeper. Fingers crossed he survives those couple of weeks just fine, the idea of Matt Macey between the sticks is not exactly soothing, especially if it’s in the Europa League.
The other absentee is Miki, and his injury appears to be much more serious:
“Micki came off and he will be out for Sunday. He has a scan and the fear is that his medial knee ligament has been touched. We’ll know more about that soon. For how long he will be out, I don’t know.” – Arsene Wenger
Given how short we are in midfield, given how good Miki fits our play, and given how his potential replacements are Iwobi and Welbeck, the Armenian’s injury is really not welcome. It also leaves us a body short for the Europa League, to add to the already cup-tied Aubameyang. Fingers crossed Henrikh will recover in time for the semis, should we make them.
I think we are likely to see some rotation again. As far as the defence goes, think Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac are likely stand-ins for Koscielny and Monreal respectively. The Englishman did the drill last weekend and was pretty solid too.
It’s a bit trickier with Monreal though. I get the feeling Wenger’s trust in Kolasinac is still minimal, plus he likely sees the Spaniard as the necessary senior head to organise the defense in Koscielny’s likely absence.
In midfield you could make a case for resting Ramsey. Wenger has done this twice already, before the Milan games, demonstrating how he views our European chances. Rambo played last week though, plus Mkhitaryan absence makes our options very limited indeed.
The only player available for one of the (at least) four midfield spots besides Ozil, Wilshere and Xhaka, is Elneny. As much as I think the Egyptian is a useful squad player, I’d really we rather kept Ramsey for this one, provided Aaron can handle the load of minutes. Of course we also have Iwobi, but I think he’ll play as an almost auxiliary forward, in Mkhitaryan’s place.
The sole frontman should be Aubameyang, no questions here. He is allowed the luxury of playing once a week, besides, I don’t think it’s a good idea to risk Lacazette without an acute need. Should anything happen to our Frenchman again, we’ll be down to Welbeck for the Europa League. Hardly ideal, especially when we can land Atletico Madrid any minute.
Player in focus: Aaron Ramsey
Without Mkhitaryan and with Lacazette’s place on the bench, the Welshman’s importance cannot be overestimated. Jack Wilshere is going through a bad patch, Iwobi severely lacks confidence and Ozil is more suited to assisting than scoring himself.
That leaves Aubameyang responsible for sticking the ball into the net almost solely … were it not for Aaron Ramsey. Right now our number 8 is on top form, as his double on Thursday proved. His secondary runs and guile in the final ⅓ remain integral in our goal supply.
If anyone in this current squad is capable of sharing the goalscoring burden with Auba (Lacazette aside), it’s Ramsey. We are going to need the Welshman’s skills for the run-in even more in the light of Mkhitaryan’s absence. Southampton looks as good a place as any to pick up his league form.
Despite our focus being largely on the Europa League now (understandable), I still fancy the Gunners to produce and get the points against Soton. The Saints went from bad to worse this season, their form is dreadful and Mark Hughes doesn’t appear to be helping.
As an aside, I think it would be a real shame if Southampton went down. They have some very good players and has been an established side in the league for a while now. But I’m not as generous as to suggest we should help their cause by gifting the points. Not the least because of the person in charge of the team.
I hope we can further improve our home form today. The discrepancy between home and away has been quite stellar this season, to be honest, and I’m not sure where that comes from. So we should make the most of our remaining league games to compensate for the points we’ll invariably drop in away fixtures.
So come on you Gunners.