Southampton venture into north London for a Premier League match for the first time since 2005. Having been on a downward spiral, successive promotions under the guidance of Nigel Adkins is a tremendous achievement and quite rightly, he is getting praised for that. If he manages to keep The Saints in the top flight, no matter what anyone else achieves, he will deserve Manager of the Year. And that is a tall order for the South Coast team. You’ll have gathered I have a bit of a soft spot for them.
It has been a baptism of fire for them; three games, three defeats on paper looks like relegation form and yet the only disappointment will have been the 0 – 2 home defeat to Wigan. Expecting the newly promoted side to take any points off either of the Mancunian sides would qualify as unbridled optimism, even if the matches offered that hope as they unfurled. As it is, they will be looking to avoid defeat today; to return home with anything from this match would surely offer them confidence going forward.
The international break came at an inopportune moment for Arsenal. Having won at Anfield, the manager would have wanted to build on that and create momentum going into a busy run of fixtures. Then again when is an international break ever convened at an opportune moment? Arsenal need to win. City, United and Chelsea will undoubtedly overcome their opposition; I know that last season, they had problems with their respective opponents but lightning rarely strikes twice in these fixtures. Of the three, City’s looks the toughest but Stoke City were no great shakes a three weeks ago, their reputation is based more on column inches if that performance is anything to go by.
Arsène’s press conference revealed little surprise in the team news, certainly as far as injuries were concerned. There is little logic in playing Diaby even if he is passed fit, let him rest and be ready for Montepellier and Manchester City. It is not as if we are short of numbers in midfield, according to the manager. That is stretching it at the moment but even so, Aaron Ramsey or Francis Coquellin will surely be able to drop in seamlessly to the triumverate in the centre of the park.
If the young Frenchman replaces Diaby, his untimely outburst during the international break will bring his performance under the microscope; he is not quite on a hiding to nothing but will definitely face derision if he is deemed not to be up to standard. Ramsey on the other hand, will quite rightly feel he has as much chance of playing, probably more so given he has been the used substitute this season. I suspect that he will find himself in the starting line-up; his inclusion precludes moving Arteta further forward, giving a more settled feel to the side.
Changes will be made in the back five though. Mannone will make way for Szczesny but the Italian need not be downcast. As I observed yesterday, I think this spell means that he has usurped Fabianski as N°2 goalkeeper at the club, with the likelihood increasing of Lukasz being loaned or sold this winter. The other choice is whether or not Mertesacker retains his place. Such deliberations did not seem likely last season given Koscielny’s form but the German has responded to that this season being part of the so far unbreached Arsenal defence. On that alone, why would Arsène make a change? Probably on the same basis as goalkeepers; you play your best players.
It was interesting reading the comments about the training session photos, divination by bib suggests that Olivier Giroud might struggle to join his predecessors in breaking his duck against today’s visitors. It would be harsh if the Frenchman were dropped to the bench but equally understandable. The formation today will need to stretch the Southampton defence, ensuring the full width of The Ashburton Grove pitch is used with a recall for Gervinho and Podolski moved centrally. That is the harsh reality which Giroud faces with the personnel available although scoring today would certainly bring some confidence to the forward, as well as getting a monkey off his back.
I expect the line-up today to be:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Ramsey, Cazorla, Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Gervinho
It leaves an extremely strong bench to choose from with Walcott and Arshavin offering different attacking options if needed. Had Walcott not been ill during the recent international week, I think today he would been playing from the start. As it is, a familiar feeling of sitting on the bench for the former Saint.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.