We had a disappointing performance on the south coast on Saturday that got the result it deserved in the FA Cup. Tonight I expect to see a stronger Arsenal team take all three points in the Premier League match-up.
Saints fielded as close as they could get to a full strength side against us at the weekend whereas many of our best players were rested, which should help tip the balance in our favour.
I expect to see Smith Rowe, Tierney, Saka, Lacazette and Partey recalled to the starting line-up. It’s not clear at the time of writing what the issue with Aubameyang is and whether he’s available, but if not we will likely start Martinelli again as the left sided attacker.
We saw on Saturday how effective Saints are with the high press and we will face it again tonight and need to do better. Through a combination of Southampton’s efforts and the inability of Xhaka and Elneny to dominate the midfield, we were constantly under pressure when trying to play out from the back.
In fairness our central midfielders were not helped by the ineffectiveness of Willian and Nketiah as our ‘out balls’ in that match (we lost possession every time the ball went to either of them) and Martinelli also struggled to make an impression.
It also didn’t help that we had a right-footed player at left back and that on his return to action after several weeks’ lay-off Gabriel was showing more rust than Del and Rodney’s Reliant Robin.
We will face the same challenge tonight but we will handle it better with Tierney restored and, probably, with Luiz back into central defence alongside Holding. I know that Gabriel is our best long-term prospect at CB, but there’s no need to rush him back after his absence with two full games in four days. And in any case, Luiz may be better suited to handling the Saints press.
The sacking of Frank Lampard showed how few chances you get to succeed in the Premier League. Chelsea are two points ahead of us and still in the FA Cup, but that did not stop Abramovich pulling the plug and switching off the Lamp. If we had an owner like that then Arteta would probably have been out on his ear after our bad run earlier this season.
However, I’m glad that didn’t happen. If a manager is going to become really successful, he needs the chance to make mistakes and fail (temporarily) so he can learn how to react when facing future challenges. It’s a cliche, but you often learn more from defeat than from victory – you just have to not make it too much of a habit.
When Arteta, Lampard and Solskjaer were being written up as the three young guns of EPL management I remember writing that El Patron would outlast the other two in his job. Well, Lamps is out. Ole is riding high at the moment but let’s wait and see. If he is manager at Manchester United at the start of next season I will be very surprised.
Here’s the team I think we’ll see tonight, with Aubameyang in ahead of Martinelli if he’s available and with Cedric preferred to Hector (just a hunch):
Cedric – Holding – Luiz – Tierney
Xhaka – Partey
Saka – Smith Rowe – Martinelli
That 11 is good enough to win and I expect them to do so.
Come on You Gunners.