Back to Winning Ways: Southampton Prematch & Predicted Line-up

Back to make martyrs of the Saints

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.



52 Responses to Back to Winning Ways: Southampton Prematch & Predicted Line-up

  1. Sue says:

    Nice one, Rocky!
    Auba – nowhere to be seen in the training pictures – gutted!
    Apparently the Saints will be without Bertrand and Walker-Peters… pity it’s not Ings and Ward-Prowse, but hey, you can’t have it all!
    I hope I’m wrong, but I fancy a draw.. they’re a tough nut to crack.
    Your line up looks spot on, bar one – I think Hector will return. Anyway, whoever plays i just hope they make missing ‘Married at First Sight Australia’ worthwhile 😆

  2. LB says:

    That is the strongest team we have and I am really excited about it.

    GB wrote recently: people expecting Martinelli to simply replace Aubamayang are off the mark (I paraphrase)

    People like me who champion Martinelli over Aubamayang do so not because the former is a better attacker and obviously not a better goal scorer but because he plays that position out on the left much better than Aubamayang and as such improves the over all team performance.

    The change to the suggested team above that I think might happen is that if Aubamayang is fit I expect him to play instead of Lacazette and again that will be political meaning keeping Aubamayang happy rather than what is the best team.

    The only other change I would make is if we were playing a top four side I would swap Elneny for Xhaka, the Egyptian gives the defence more solidity.

  3. LB says:

    “Married at first sight Australia”

    What am I missing out on? I clearly live a very sheltered life.

  4. RockyLives says:

    G’day Sheila.

    G’day Bruce.

    Fancy shacking up Sheila?

    Yeah, why not Bruce.

    Good on ya Sheila.

    No worries Bruce.

    (Is that how it works Sue?)

  5. Gööner In Exile says:

    Not a lot LB 🙂

    Thanks for the pre match Rocky, reckon your line up is accurate, if Auba is available I expect him to replace Martinelli in the line up, the fact that Arteta removed Martinelli after 60 minutes against Saints on the weekend may be telling as to the extent of Auba’s absence, or at least preparing for it. As LB says Martinelli has more skills to play against a deep lying defence, a burst of pace, and good feet both passing and dribbling, Auba’s quality lies in runs from deep and clinical finishing, it is not in his passing which is much more important in these kind of games.

    It is a damning indictment of the modern footballer that for me “personal reasons” suggests “I’ve been tapped up and my heads not in the right space”.

    We will see come the weekend. Unlike LB I would have Elneny in for these games and Xhaka against attacking sides as it is likely we will be susceptible to the counter attack tonight but not so much against the attacking sides and we would be the team trying to play on the counter.

    Finally Rocky you say that learning from your defeats is an important part of the journey, I think it is equally important that you make changes when winning it is much easier to get a change of message across after a team has won (even unconvincingly) than try and change the way players play when their heads are low as a result of 3/4 losses on the bounce.

  6. RC78 says:

    I think we will see the line-up you have indicated with maybe Hector in the line-up ahead of Cedric and I would not be surprised to see…Willian ahead of Martinelli either.

    Predicted line-up:
    Leno – Bello, Holding, Luiz, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Willian – Laca

    Preferred line-up:
    Leno – Bello, Holding, GABs, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Martinelli – Laca

  7. jjgsol says:

    Who is to say ESR will not be on the bench today and teacher’s pet plays instead?

    Is not the argument that he will come good, so why not tonight?

    Call me cynic, but I am one.

  8. RA says:

    Good one, as usual, Rocky.

    Slightly confusing messages / rumours coming out about Auba. Missed the last game because of personal / family matter. Might miss tonights game for same reason. MA reluctantly gives update, and says he’s fine and is available – maybe.

    The 17 y.o. Azeez is reported to have trained with 1st team yesterday (?) — too early yet, maybe, but he is like a spring bud just waiting to flower and I think he will be great when it happens.

    I made my views clear (been listening to too many crap politicians here and in the US) about our need for someone who knows where the back of the net is, following our recent games — Balogun would work — MA said he wants him to stay, and was working on a deal — then he drops him from the subs bench. Really?

    Douzi may be part of a swap deal to take him to PSG for an ageing winger — come on Mikel, he has the potential to be a top midfielder, and adds to the team’s drive and grit, just like Hector Protector who Mikel thinks is captain material. Sheesh.

    Willock and Reiss Nelson seem to have regressed this season, as has GK, Runaroundson, and the 24/25 y.o. Nicolas Pepe does not seem to be helped in his development at Arsenal, at all.

    I am beginning to think that Mikel is not too great with developing the youngsters after all.

    Mikel needs to pick up the pace, or else he can join Frank Lampard in the ex-manager’s club.

  9. RC78 says:

    Hi RA – I think AFC will assess MA’s performance at the end of the season. Success for this season on the pitch may mean finishing in Top 6 and reaching the finals of the Europa League. I think if we do poorly in the Europa League, MA will be under scrutiny…

    As for the Douzi-Draxler swap, I am not sure Draxler will be in favour…let us see. As for Douzi at PSG, he will be in competition with Verratti, Thiago, Herrerra at CM / Paredes, Gueye, Danilo at DM so may be a bit of a steep mountain to climb for him…However, PSG may wish to have some young blood pushing the established stars – plus he is French and we do not have enough French players in the squad that are first team material according to many fans, except Kimpembe and Mbappe of course….

    I reckon Pembele will come good for PSG in time but at the moment he is learning. Dagba has been disappointing so far this season and Kurzawa is inconsistent…PSG has produced so many quality young players but they just leave like Coman, Diaby, Nkunku, Kouassi, Dembele, Edouard, Ikone, Maignan, Areola…

  10. Pete the Thirst says:

    Arteta needs to get a win to justify the weakened team he played on Saturday. Anything less makes a mockery of effectively throwing the FA Cup game.

    Arteta was always going to have more time on his side than Lampard. The money laundering operation at Stamford Bridge needs expensive players to be performing and justifying the movement of dirty money to agents and off shore accounts.

    The Panama Papers revealed Abramovich owns a large number of (non-Chelsea) players through agencies/investment companies. The sale of these players means his dirty money can enter the Western banking system avoiding sanctions currently in place.

  11. Pete the Thirst says:

    On Guendouzi. I do think he is a very talented player, but his attitude is clearly a big problem. Arteta decided he had crossed the line too often and decided he was better elsewhere. Is there a way back for him? I doubt it.

    So far Ozil, Socratis & Kolasinac have gone. I expect Mustafi, Mavropanos, Guendouzi & Torreira will follow shortly. I also see the Club trying to shift Pepe, Bellerin, Willock, Nelson & Chambers soon. Add Willian to that bunch.

    That’s a lot of players!

  12. RC78 says:

    and also Nketiah…I think Bellerin, Chambers and Nelson will stay…What about AMN Pete?

  13. Sue says:

    Rocky.. 😂 Bang on, cobber!!

    I don’t want Guendouzi to leave..

    Team news – Arsenal confirm that Aubameyang is still out due to ‘personal family reasons’. Ceballos and Mari still missing, Tierney being assessed due to ‘discomfort in the lower right leg’.

  14. RC78 says:

    Rumours that West Ham want Nketiah. What do you make of that?

  15. RC78 says:

    @Sue – Di Maria to extend stay at PSG

  16. RC78 says:

    Hi Sue – shame about Auba, just when he was hitting form again. Fingers crossed for Tierney…I hope we see Balogun in the group tonight.

  17. RC78 says:

    Odegaard completes medical ahead of Arsenal loan move. Our second recruit after Matt Ryan. Arteta still looking to get a left back to deputize for Tierney…Would Danny Rose be welcome at AFC?

  18. Pete the Thirst says:

    AMN – keep him. Not sure he floats Mikel’s boat though
    Nketiah – Sell if a decent offer comes in
    Danny Rose – No thank you

  19. Sue says:

    Hi RC.. Great news about Di Maria – what an angel he is 😜 Still seeing rumours about Ramos…
    Yes, I’m gutted about Auba missing out. Fingers and everything else crossed for Teaco. Don’t fancy facing the Mancs on Saturday without him!
    Surely Balogun will be on the bench?

  20. RA says:


    Your knowledge is very enlightening.

    Your list of the players who have left PSG, including Diaby, is very impressive, and the scouting / recruiting system must be among the best in Europe.

    I was hoping that if Balogun and John Jules from our youth team do eventually go, that we might buy Edouard who is currently at Celtic. He is strong, skilful and physically well suited to the Premier League, in my opinion, and would be good for Arsenal, but I have read that other clubs are already sniffing around him.

    Is there some special link between Celtic and PSG?
    Because the Scots often get young skilful players from PSG before other Scottish and English clubs wake up to what is available?

    Perhaps you could write to Edu and tip him off, if you know a gifted player wants to leave PSG. 😁

  21. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky. Not been on since last week so missed some great chat. We have not done too badly since the change in formation that started with the Chelsea game, but even before this my thoughts on our priorities this year were Europa league, Premier league, F.A cup in that order.

    I think the bad run earlier in the season has left us too much to do in the league, even if we finish the 2nd half of the season well. We may be able to scrape a top 6 but no more as it is asking too many other decent sides to drop too many points. I will be happy if we are one of the best 4 from that Chelsea game till the end of the season as that will bode well next year.

    The EL is not just silverware but a direct route to the ECL again. This is our biggest priority hopefully coupled with a strong 2nd half EPL campaign. The FA cup was behind these 2 now this season so I wasnt too worried about not prioritising it.

    That said, what was thrown up was the lack of good options with certain players and certain positions, and that doesn’t bode well because we will need to rotate players and have proper back up if we are to finish the EPL well and seriously target the EL.

    The problem is it seems too many players are not up to it, like Willian and Pepe. Or are they? Is this actually the case?

    Now I’m not suggesting all of the maligned players will prove worthy of continuing with, but it also hasn’t escaped my attention, and some other bloggers on here, that this dissatisfaction has also extended to Lacazette in the recent past and Aubamayeng more recently.

    That dissatisfaction only happens when performances have been lacking. I wonder though, is it that all these players are not good enough or up to it or is it that they are, or have been, simply out of form and lacking in confidence.

    It isn’t just 1 or 2 that have been dismissed as not good enough over the last 2 years but quite a number of players. Some we yoyo in and out with like Lacazette and Aubamayeng and it varies as to who is not flavour of the month at different times.

    The individual is blamed but when you start totting up how many players have been subject to our disapproval maybe there is something else afoot. Maybe there is another underlying common theme that is creating this.

    Pepe hit 22 goals and 11 assists in the season before arriving then comes to us and…….

    Aubamayeng has always been a prolific goal scorer but this season he is rather meh to many, and not a player food enough for our 1st 11.

    Lacazette is now back in favour but was where Aubamayeng has been recently, if not more so in the rate of dissatisfaction.

    Willian intrigues ne even more. He has won a lot of stuff as a key player in those teams and has always been a forward driving player at the heart of most of the good attacking moves, comfortable carrying the ball and comfortable to twist and turn his way out of danger when under pressure. Then he comes to us and……

    How is it that so many players with positive stats and performances nose dive with us? Is it them individually or something else?

    I say this, because like the rest of you I expect our in firm confidence players, like Saka and ESR, to be featuring tonight but what us happening with many if these other players that are vitally important to our squad depth?

    They are as important as the ones currently in form across a whole season. Has a player like Willian really become so sub standard from being that top level player, or has the general creepiness at the whole club in recent months dragged him down so much and that now he is just woefully lacking in confidence to do what was natural to him some months before?

  22. Aaron says:

    Rocky continues his form.

    Tierney probably out, no Auba, no Mari, questions for Mikel to answer.

    Sell Eddie, AMN if he is not to be played, sell Gwen to PSG full price.
    No more cast offs!

    Challenging times all around.

  23. RA says:

    Team Update:

    Auba: still unavailable for family reasons

    Ceballos: Has resumed training after injury to left calf.

    Mari; Right calf strain – resumes training this week.

    Tierney: Has discomfort in the lower right leg – still being assessed.

    Makes the theory of too much rotation to senior 1st team players for the S/Hampton FA Cup game look a little weak. Wounded warriors is all.

  24. RA says:

    Hi GB,

    A nice comment based around your usual fair play considerations, and credit to you.

    I have a somewhat different reaction to the number of players going thru a bad time, at the moment, which is not based on any particular prognosis but is a simple rule.

    First Rule: I support Arsenal. I want Arsenal to win ….. everything. Or at least to come close to winning something …. every season …. fanciful tho that might sound to some. Nothing will ever change my mind about that, so managers/players beware!

    Second Rule: There is no second rule — see first rule.

    OK, so what about the players.
    They are human beings, like the rest of us, and like all of us can have times when nothing works as expected. How long that affliction lasts can not be assessed at the outset, but the manager and the fans must be flexible and allow some latitude in criticising players on the blogs, who line up a 1 metre tap in, and kick their standing foot instead, et seq.

    Let’s have a look at two players who have been pilloried this season, and who, try as they might, seem to be in a career devastating spiral out of Arsenal, if things continue in the same vein.

    Let’s say the two players in question are Willian and Pepe.

    From this bloggers perspective, the pair of them have great skill in controlling the ball; each can hustle and bustle around the pitch with the best of ’em; each of them can unleash a shot with great velocity, or supply a delicate chip of the ball to a team mate.

    So what’s the problem?

    Well, wearing my First Rule cap, I do not mind if they occasionally set off dribbling at great pace only to lose the ball to a toe-poke, or aimlessly run into an immovable defender; or shoot when in a good position and hit Row Z; or try to make the said delicate chip to a team mate and present the GK with an easy gimme.

    But that’s the rub — an occasional screw up is OK, we can all admit to that from time to time. Making the same mistake time and again, is not acceptable, and time must indeed be called on their Arsenal careers.

    I don’t think that time has arrived for either of them, that downward spiral for both of them can change in the blink of an eye, if they are given the support of the manager and their teammates, as well, and most importantly, of all the fans.

    Every player at Arsenal wants to do well, and bask in the gratitude of thousands of Gooners — every one of out players wants that, but sadly some will not make it, and the manager has to be ruthless in culling them.

    If Mikel doesn’t do that, if it is necessary, then this fan will refer him to the First Rule — and good luck to him then.

  25. Sue says:

    No Tesco 🥺

  26. RC78 says:

    So Arteta showing big faith in Pepe by starting him tonight. Let us hope for him and us that he does amazingly well tonight.

  27. LB says:

    Which super market would Cedric be?

  28. RC78 says:

    Leno – Bello, Holding, Luiz, Cedric – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Pepe – Laca

  29. LB says:

    I think that is one of the excuses that was doing the rounds last week: Pepe has never played with Saka and Smith Rowe at the same time.

    Ok, Nicholas show me the money.

  30. RockyLives says:

    Shame KT is out. Cedric tries hard but it’s difficult to pose the same attacking threat off his wrong side.

    LB is right about Pepe. Tonight’s the night to show us what he’s got.

  31. RC78 says:

    Come on Pepe!

  32. RC78 says:

    I hope Pepe plays really high up the pitch, almost at Laca’s level tonight.

  33. GoonerB says:

    Thanks for your response RA even when my phone substitutes words like of and if and creepiness for crappiness, which is t actually a word so I get why it changed that one.

    I mostly concur with you but those 2 players I really feel need a good psychology based get in their head talking to. Willian should have all the tools to be an older experienced back up to ESR but looks like he is playing like a player lacking confidence to try and make things happen and is playing too cautiously and risk averse.

  34. GoonerB says:

    I’m hoping this doesn’t consign Saka back to the left side rather than the right. If anything it would be better to use Saka in a central attacking role with ESR playing on the left side of him and Pepe to the right. That would allow Saka to interchange with Pepe so Pepe can get into central areas more often.

  35. Gööner In Exile says:

    Saka in front of Cedric, Pepe in front of Hector does make sense, put the player least likely to be comfortable with the best attacker, so Saka in front of Cedric.

    I fully expect ESR and Pepe to get in each other’s way, but maybe that movement to the flank by ESR will allow Pepe to cut free.

    Another game I won’t be watching as it’s on BTooMuchF***ingMoney Sport.

  36. Gööner In Exile says:

    Bugger just realised we are on Bt Sport 3 times between today and end of month, maybe I’ll subscribe and first leg against Benfica.

  37. Rasp says:

    It’s looking like Pepe and ESR could be a good combination.

  38. RC78 says:

    Pepe having a decent game so far, playing higher up the pitch on the right side. He was quite good that high on either side of the pitch at Lille.

    Laca missed an easy chance early on but he atoned with a beautiful assist.

    I am finding Bellerin, Luiz and Soares a bit fragile in the back and Xhaka a bit slow in the middle of the park but he had a good assist for Pepe.

    As for Partey, strong start but then a little dip…hope he picks up again

  39. RC78 says:

    A good half of football. We need to shore up defensively and keep creating offensively. We need to score the third quickly in the second half because we are not looking too confident at the back, especially Bellerin.

  40. Rasp says:

    I think the the winner will be the side that can keep this pace up for the full 90 minutes.

  41. Gööner In Exile says:

    Not a bad first half, could do with a bit more from ESR and Pepe, but they are pulling Saints defence about which is giving room for Saka and Laca.

    Seems like LB was right and Cedric just needed a game to settle, much more accomplished half,.

    Interested that Pepe has ended up on left.

    My only criticism is he doesn’t seem explosive enough when setting off on a dribble, he seems to want to get the defender to commit, watch Saka or ESR they make the defender get on the back foot and don’t give others time to regroup. Took his goal well, made me laugh watching ESR who was very much indoctrinated in the one more pass, thinking I had a rap in if you squared it, and we would be giving Pepe pelters if he missed.

  42. RC78 says:

    I think Nketiah could score for us tonight if he came on

  43. RC78 says:

    And Laca scores…Saka with another MOTM performance but I think Cedric is having a great night too so far. His passing from the back has been outstanding.

  44. fred1266 says:

    Get in lacazette

    Let’s see if the game changed as Willian and pepe on at the same time

    Nice movement by Willian to give Cedric the ball

  45. RC78 says:

    Luiz always has an error in him…It is amazing

  46. RC78 says:

    Leno on a good run lately…nice to see

  47. LB says:

    If Tesco is fit this weekend, Cedric should play on the right, has Arteta got los cojones to make that decision?

    I know football is all about goals but if Pepe hadn’t have scored tonight would you really want him starting ahead of Martinelli?

    Luiz………..OMG……….heart in the mouth again.

  48. LB says:

    Still we won and life is sweet.

  49. RA says:

    Cedric even at LB was great again tonight!!

    Hard to pick a MoTM — Laca, Saka, Leno, Partey — well nearly all of them played very well.

  50. LB says:

    Again, you know, like it was before last weekend.

  51. RockyLives says:

    Very pleasing performance.

    We are making some pretty patterns in the attacking third now.

    Those barren performances from a few weeks ago seem really bizarre with hindsight.

    Obviously the switch to using Saka and ESR has made a big difference, but confidence must also be playing a part.

  52. RC78 says:

    New post everyone

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: