Southampton Preview: Saints Or Sinners?


Morning all, 2013 is here and that can mean only one thing: football is back. Arsenal travel to Southampton for talks about signing Luke Shaw and as luck would have it, there will be plenty of evidence to support directors talking, what with a football match going on and all that. Arsène praised the youth production line at the south coast club,

The question of Southampton’s academy set-up is a very good one because they have done a fabulous job. Why? It is down to the quality of their scouting, the quality of their coaching and education. When you look at what Bale is doing, and Walcott.  And now they have they players like Morgan Schneiderlin, they have brought some players of top, top quality and they work well. They have fantastic scouting.

It’s his Victor Kiam moment, isn’t it? So good, he bought the entire Academy.

One previous player is relishing the opportunity of a return to Southampton. Theo Walcott, for it is he, has apparently dropped a hint via his agents and a compliant journalist that he will sign a new deal imminently. Except he didn’t say that at all and there is a great deal of supposition in the notion. Yet it is refreshing in that the layers have been peeled away from this deal, that we get to the fruit and find it is still a money tree we have climbed. No positional deflections, no quality diversions. Once more this is around money and based on the figures bandied about in the past few days, I would have said that £95k per week is not unreasonable given the state of football today. Of course, that again is supposition and should there be failure to reach agreement, Ivan Gazidis’ Summer promises of overhauling the wage structure will look incredibly hollow.

Nigel Adkins meanwhile has looked on with pride at the development of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The youngster has played well recently but is not the finished article, nor does he claim to be. Adkins noted,

He is one of the players that came through out system. We are excited watching him play. We’d love him to still be at Southampton, but he is an Arsenal player now and an England international. I went to watch him against Reading the other night and he was exhilarating, with his acceleration to go away, a desire to get on the football. He is a joy to watch.

I think everybody at Southampton is proud of what he is doing now. Everybody at the football club has had a role and a responsibility to play in Alex’s development, but it is down to him as well. He is an exciting young talent.

There have been comments that Oxlade-Chamberlain receives an easy pass when, so the theory goes, his consistency of performance is no better than Gervinho. To me that is wrong; the youngster is criticised for poor performances but the Ivorian receives less leeway because he is more experienced, closer to being the finished article – no player can be considered that as they should continually improve with more experience – than a young man barely old enough to vote. And that is the crux of that issue; the callowness of youth.

Southampton have improved considerably in recent weeks and any thoughts that this is going to be as straightforward an away win as Reading are wrong. The Saints have shown Arsène’s favoured qualities, super mental strength and resilience in response to the relegation battle in which they find themselves. That said, they lost their last home game to Sunderland so it is a match that Arsenal are emminently capable of winning. Tottenham and Chelsea both have routine home games so Arsenal have to win to keep the pressure on our noisy neighbours.

I would expect rotation from Arsène but not too much. The back four will stay largely intact with the even larger Mertesacker returning to the starting line-up for Vermaelen to rest the Belgian. In midfield, I wonder if Arteta is going to be rested today or Cazorla. When I say rested, drop to the bench for a quick breather, Aaron Ramsey taking his place? The more likely switch today is Cazorla and Rosicky. Up front, I cannot see the justification for change, Podolski and Walcott are in good form with the German’s contribution flying below the media radar with their obsession over the England internationals form and contractual plight. The fly in the ointment if you like, is Olivier Giroud and I wonder if Arsène might be tempted into playing him centrally with Walcott on the right?

The line-up I would expect is:

Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Rosicky, Arteta, Wilshere; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski

As it is, continuing the nascent run is vital, the performances will come with the collection of results. The win keeps up the top four immediate aspirations without relying on the failure of others and increases pressure on those who have a track record of crumbling under such intensities.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. To keep you going, there is another New Years Day visit to the south coast at Arsenal On This Day.

’til Tomorrow.



659 thoughts on “Southampton Preview: Saints Or Sinners?

  1. @JJ
    No, I get my stats from ESPN Soccernet. Even though their numbers aren’t complete (they don’t count CL qualification ties, for example), they are usually reliable.

    I’ve already agreed with you that he is a bit of an enigma, capable of turning promising attack into a goal conceded at one moment. But at the next moment he can also dribble like no one else in our squad could to set up an incredible chance. He is a frustrating player, but he has contributed. He has contributed more than last season. If a different player in our squad could do better given the same game time? I don’t know about that. But to give a comparison: the Ox has played one game more than Gervinho, but contributed less (2 goals/2 assists vs. 5 goals/assists).

  2. Mike, I think your “evidence” is bogus. That’s about it. Seems you Just want to have a dig because it is an opportune time.

    Anyways, it is obvious that only an unbeaten run untill th end of the season and champagne football to boot can salvage this season.

  3. Alot of talk about creativity but if we compare it to last year even with RVP we’d scored i think the same amount of league goals. It’s the spread of goals that is difficult to explain, we can just as easily score 12 in 2 and look quality and none in the next 2 and look completely abject. A Demitar Berbotov FC if you will, now my hope is that simply the more time this team plays together the more consistent we can become. Now whether thats consistently good or bad we’ll just have to wait and see.

  4. No Paul, it’s 34 points out of 60.

    Or do we really want to revise to the point of saying that the 9 games we’ve won so far mean we have 27 points out of 27?

    I think that’s called “revisionism”?

    Do I think we’ll beat the spuds and get into the top 4?

    Actually, yes I do.

    Do I think the squad is better than what we’re seeing? Yes.

    Do I mind the team losing if they give it their best shot? No, that’s all I ask.

    Do I mind if the players don’t play to their potential and, IMO, don’t put the effort in? Yes, very much so.

  5. Reading these many Over-The-Top reactions is a reminder that:
    …Adversity builds character or shows the lack thereof.

  6. You might be right JJ. Ateeb might right. Even Bob, that notorious gloom merchant himself, might be right (only joking! Bob’s never right…). Maybe AW has reached the end of his reign, or is approaching the end. Maybe his judgement is waning, his decision making no longer razor sharp. Maybe he’s blind to his mistakes and stuck in a bloody great rut. It happens to the very best. I don’t think he’ll sign a new contract in 2014, even with an upturn in our fortunes. So either way it is approaching the end of an era.

    I happen to agree with BRF though, that eventually consistency of form will occur (though I do believe we need to strengthen, a real injection proven quality as the cliche goes). If in six months time or whatever I’m proven wrong then I hope I’m gracious enough to admit it. Maybe 🙂

  7. So Paul, if you want to respond, explain how and why it’s bogus.

    Simply stating its “rubbish”, or “bogus” is, to coin a phrase, rubbish.

    To explain why it isn’t “bogus”, why don’t you go and read hat Wenger said this evening?

    Then maybe you might notice that he himself seems to draw the same parallels I did.

    If that’s so, then go and read how many imes he’s made that or a military observation.

    Once you’ve done that (if you can or even want to), then try and tell me it’s not endemic, only try and actually provide logical reasons why, not the “universal truth” response.

    If you can’t, or don’t want to, it’s simple, then don’t waste your time or mine.

  8. We have not controlled the MF as well since Diaby limped off,
    We do need a power house in the middle of the park.It was a mistake not having a back up for him .It will be another mistake if we dont put it right in the window.
    But if we cant get one,well so be it.

  9. Great point, George. People say “We need to buy this, we need to buy that.” Those same people forget that it’s not always possible to buy the player you want. It’s not like there haven’t been countless examples of us wanting a player and not getting him. Going all the way back to Xabi Alonso in 2008 or whenever it was.

  10. If Wenger has managed to coach out flair and goal scoring, I am wondering why we are scoring more goals this season than last. Maybe Bould coached the goal scoring back in?

  11. To buy a player it doesn’t take two. It takes a bit more. The player, the player’s club, his agent, who knows who else might have a say in it. You have to satisfy the demands of the player (his wage, whatever extras he might want to have), you have to satisfy his agent (just look at Ba and the reports that his agent is asking for 2 million for himself) and then you also have to satisfy his clubs demands (and we are not just talking transfer fee! There are add-ons to be discussed, method of payment, etc.)

    It’s not like you go in and say “Hey, I got 20 million quid in the bank for your club and I am going to pay you 80k p/w, wanna sign?” It’s a lot lot lot more complicated than that.

  12. Paul N
    January 1, 2013 at 11:05 pm
    The team not playing well = flair and goal scoring being coached out, does it.

    You cannot be serious?

    I’m putting a point of view that I think is a possible debating point.

    The fact that you are simply incapable (it appears), of providing a counter to that absolutely baffles me.

    Yes, of course it’s a serious proposition, I’m trying to figure out what the problem is, it’s what I do for a living, I’m programmed to raise what might be ostensibly outrageous ideas to stimulate thought, because guess what, sometimes the outrageous is closer to the truth than anyone imagined.

  13. @MIke
    If Wenger has taught our players to forget how to score goals, why are we scoring more goals this season than the last or the one before?

  14. Paul N
    January 1, 2013 at 11:08 pm
    Mike, Wengers team have been creative from day one. What Is your aim. to drive Arsene into the ground?

    Bloody hell you do go off on a tangent! Try answering the question! You’re like trying to hold a drop of mercury.

    To continue the “my beliefs” thingy from earlier:

    Do I think Wenger is the best manager Arsenal have ever had? Yes, absolutely.

    Do I think Wenger is still the right man for the job? I’m starting to have my doubts.

    Do I hope I’m wrong? Very, very much so.

    Am I trying to “drive hi into the ground”? No, I’d like some answers and intelligent debate as to why I’m wrong. Otherwise I’m forced to conclude that I’m not, because there aren’t any intelligent arguments disputing what I postulate.

  15. Evil
    January 1, 2013 at 11:15 pm
    If Wenger has taught our players to forget how to score goals, why are we scoring more goals this season than the last or the one before?

    Now THAT’S the sort of response I expect!

    So, I’m quite lazy when it comes to things like this, but it’d be interesting to see what the shot ratios are, how many are on target, how many shots per minute in the opposition half, etc.

    Basically some interesting stats on whether we are comparable in terms of creativity to previous seasons.

    Have we always played with the handbrake on?

  16. Yes that’s rather succinctly put George. I agree. And sort out this Walcott saga of course, but that raises the sticky subject of wages (dun dun du dun dun), so I’ll not go there. Anyway tie him down (and tickle him until he signs…) or look to a suitable replacement.

    Ho-hum. See it’s a piece of piss, this managing one of the biggest clubs in Europe within strict financial constraints, whilst achieving Champions league qualification for 13 successive seasons malarky. Don’t know what all the fuss is about. Oi Wenger, sort it aaat.

  17. Mike not being funny mate but surely the question you need to ask concerns the consistancy of our creative play. To my reckoning we have scored over 60 goals in all competitions so far this year. To say we dont create is nonsense but its either feast or famine depending on what Arsenal turns or more accurately imo if we can win the midfield battle which we did not do today. I actually don’t believe that this is a huge tactical issue,yes our three does have a shape but they are tasked first and foremost to simply outplay the opposition when they cant we get what happened tonight which is a repeat of utd and norwich.

  18. @Mike
    We are actually pretty decent with our chances. There are only two teams in the Prem that need fewer chances than we do: Chelsea and Manchester United. So we are economical. About 16% of our shots result in goals (the number might be a bit higher now since the most recent numbers I found don’t take the Newcastle game into account).

    However what is true — and has been true last season as well — is that we shoot less than other teams. For this season at the half-way point we hadn’t even been in the top 6 for shots taken. Liverpool, Newcastle United, Everton all had more pops at goal than we did. So when people say we don’t shoot enough, there might be a grain of truth in that statement. But last season we were also taking fewer shots than a couple of other teams but still scoring more.

  19. Paul-N
    January 1, 2013 at 11:21 pm
    Mike, your premise is illogical, hence there is no sensible debate taking place.

    No Paul, not a single response of yours has been logical. You seem to have no intelligent answer to it at all. You don’t even discuss Wenger’s take on this.

    I take it that you simply can’t get your head around a debate. Have you ever tried to debate, a proper one, where you are required to stand up and defend a totally ridiculous position? That’s what debating societies do or fun.

    It certainly appears that this is beyond you, so I can only conclude you have no ability to counter my proposition.

    If it was entirely illogical it would be a very simple matter to counter it, but you simply haven’t. You’ve resorted to, “but that’s impossible”, with no apparent ability to state why it’s impossible.

    If I postulated that a wall mounted clock should be able to fly off the wall and give you a controlled short back and sides haircut, surely it would be fairly easy to point out hat the clock has no visible means of detaching itself from the wall, or ability to conduct controlled flight across to your location, or any visible mechanism or equipment or cutting hair, let alone measuring your head and calculating how and where to cut.

    I really fail to understand your failure.

  20. No BRF, that’s not being funny, that’s the sort of discussion I was hoping for.

    Yes, it was originally a very blunt version of a question I’ve asked before, but the sheer dismissal of the point I felt was rather stupid IMO, and I really would like to discuss the issue n exactly the manner you pointed out.

  21. Mike, writing a whole lot means nothing. Your initial premise is ridiculous. If you cannot see that, so be it.
    Peace out!

  22. by my reckoning of our 40 PL goals, 23 have come in 4 games against a 10 man Spurs, a tired Newcastle, and porous defending from Southampton and Reading. That leaves 17 goals in the remaining 16 games. Games like today’s and similar performances against Norwich, Schalke, ManU and Swansea have exposed our offensive limitations and a general lack of creativity. I don’t remember a season where we have created so little in so many matches. If the individual talent is there perhaps it’s time to look at the system and wonder whether something other than 4-3-3 is the way forward?

  23. The conclusion for me is that our mid field three while without doubt quality players, with the exception of Santi fall just short of the benchmark recent teams have had. In effect then we will have a few more games this season where we loose the midfield battle even when weve lost in the recent seasons we usually had control. Diaby is an incredible player his quality would put our midfield on a par with the Cesc versions however he’s made of glass. I still think well get 4th and see spurs surrender in March but to take this team forward requires a tactical change or another Diaby.

  24. Thanks Evil and BRF, I think that’s very pertinent.

    As far as I recall, in Wenger’s early days we used to pepper the goal. I recall a loss against some side, maybe Middlesborough? Where we lost 2-4, where we had 28 attempts to their 4.

    So maybe Wenger is working on quality rather than quantity?

    Nevertheless, is it reasonable to assume that either its being affected by what we are doing in training, or by the type of player we are getting in, or maybe it’s the formation we are currently using?

  25. evil

    Last season we were in a similar position after 20 games, similar amount of points, similar margin to the top 4. We know how that story ended, don’t we? There is no reason to believe that it won’t be the same this season.”

    There is no reason to think it will be the same this season. Even worse is the fact that we are now happy that the club pulls out 3rd or 4th place. Just 2 seasons ago there is not one person on this blog who would believe an Arsene Wenger coached team could be sitting in this position.

    Right now we have 34 points in 20 games. Thats poor for a club with our resources and payroll. The oil rich clubs have very little to do with our point totals, we have only played each of them once. I don’t think we have the talent to compete with ManU for the title but we should not be struggling to compete with Spurs and Everton and WBA. We have fallen a long way in the last couple of seasons.

  26. Paul-N
    January 1, 2013 at 11:36 pm
    Brf, you are better than me.

    Yes Paul, that’s the first logical thing you’ve said all evening. (Apart from 13 out of 15 points being a start, there I was just trying o get you to extend your logical capacity. Sadly, I failed).

  27. @Mike
    I can as well remember us creating shit loads of chances in some games. Most of the times it was games like today, where we would bombard other teams in the last 15 minutes. Most of the time, to no avail (primarily because of their keeper having the game of his life ~_~). Back in 2011, I think, when we played City at home in a 0-0 draw where we basically “killed” them. I don’t think they had a shot at goal while we had plenty but Hart decided that he wants to go home man of the match.

    Nevertheless: even if we are creating fewer chances, we are scoring enough goals. In fact: if we continue at the current rate (2 goals per game) it will be the 3rd highest amount of goals scored in the last 10 years. Only in 2004/2005 and 2009/2010 will we have scored more.

  28. Evil, I recall those games where ” the keeper had a binder”.

    The question I asked at the time was whether that was because we were seen as a “big scalp” and it just led to that regularly or was it maybe down to the quality of our finishing?

    I recall when I played that when I played as a striker, I used to concentrate on avoiding focusing n the keeper when taking a shot. As simple as it sounds, it’s very easy for a keeper to make himself the focus of your attention, and generally, you’ll shoot where you are focusing, hence the many shots straight at the keeper from less experienced, and often even experienced players.

  29. I remember reading somewhere that a study had been done about bright coloured kits for keeper. Their findings seemed to suggest that it helped because the striker focused on the kit thus aiming at the keeper.

  30. Anyway, thanks for eventually getting down to some interesting points.

    We might be driving back to Joburg tomorrow if the weathers still crappy down here, so it’s 2am here and I need my beauty sleep for the 12 hour drive if we do go tomorrow.

    If possible, I’d like to take this discussion up again when I’m next back online if possible.

    Thanks, and good night!

  31. We can throw stats around all night but what its hard as an Arsenal fan to reconcile that essentially this is the same team that gave Liverpool a master class, outplayed Man City and left West ham chasing shadows.

    Norwich and tonight, especially after just picking up a string of results have ben terrible performances. To be fair to the saints they put in a fantastic performance, i would be suprised if they have played like that before this season, well im pretty sure they haven’t. However there does seem to be a way to play us i don’t think its particalarly new I just think it gives us more dufficulty than it used to, however ill console myself that imo it still took a wonderful performance from Southampton to put it into action.

  32. @Mike
    Wish I would know what our problem was back then. It was very frustrating to go home with a draw in the bag, when we had somewhere between 10 – 20 shots on target. Though back then Robin still wasn’t as good as he is now and Bendtner never really was truly deadly in front of goal. And after those two we would be relying on Fabregas and Arshavin to score us goals. Walcott was inconsistent, Nasri only had one good scoring run.

    In fact, in terms of pure strike force, I feel we are stronger now than maybe two or three years ago. If we look at the main striker position, we now have Giroud, Walcott and Poldi that can play there (and GErvinho, who can, but shouldn’t). 3 years ago we had RVP, Bedntner, Eduardo (post-injury) and finally Arshavin. But what we lack is the ability to create those chances.

    In fact, I would be very interested to see if we created more chances with Fabregas in the team than without him. I am pretty sure we did. Fabregas, after all, had been leading in assists in all European leagues or something when he was still with us.

    Bottom line: we have good strikers, our finishing is decent, but we are still lacking in the creative department.

  33. @BRF
    Don’t forget, against Chelsea we were the better team, too. Unfortunate, though. As I see it, there is still a great team in the players we have on the pitch.. but sometimes that teams doesn’t come out to play. I am confident we will see a much better performance against City.

    I am just not sure what to expect this Saturday against Swansea…

  34. So it’s all Szcz’s fault for not putting on the right kit! See, we got to the bottom of it all. I expect whoever is in goal against Swansea to fight it out in pink!

  35. Mike, you should have retracted your comment and be done with it. There is no need to debate something that the world knows is false.

  36. Two steps forward and one back. I must admit, while not expecting a hatful of goals, I am disappointed not to have another three points.

    It is time the club stops pandering to Theo. Giroud is a better centre forward with Theo on the right wing. Either he signs, he goes or as previously mentioned here a replacement is brought and he is stuck in the reserves.

    Time for the club to think big or at least be daring. Michu or Felaini would definitely strengthen the team.

  37. Were Southampton that good or did we make them look good? Runebreaker made a good point about the lack of support for our midfielders. No support from forwards. Any ball to defence was either lost to attempted Hollywood passes or Sagna who looked jaded – like he was playing with a fever…

  38. A lot of the so called inferior teams have a simple tactic of playing against us. Deny us time and space, force us into mistakes, don’t allow us to make our passes. Southampton very effectively did this. Previously also the same tactic was used against us but we almost always managed to beat it because of the superior players we had in our side. We had that moments of individual brilliance. Unfortunately, we don’t have it now.

    Anyway, 13 out of 15 is not bad, but we will come up against better teams who have the firepower to blow us out. 4th place is surely under threat this season.

    Also AW made some comment about lack of mental sharpness in this team, a bit of arrogance or something like that. I can understand the Invincibles having a bit of arrogance, but a team like this which has won nothing being arrogant about what??

  39. peacefrog, I just thought we gave the ball away too many times. Our passing was terrible from the goalie onwards. Even when we were in good attacking positions the final ball was lacking…our crossing was really poor.

  40. Interesting reactions to todays game. The frustration is pretty evident in almost everyone’s comments, due to the fact that we know we have the quality and skill but for some reason (as someone said earlier) we can score 12 goals in 2 games and then none in the next 2 games. Personally speaking, I have given a lot of thought to the reason as to why this is, I have also recorded any game shown on TV and watched it again a day or two after its original air-date, so I approach it more critically and less emotionally. Especially with games that we lost, cooler heads and all that.

    Today’s game however, was so familiar to us all as we were watching it, that I doubt anyone was surprised we did not score a second. Predictable about sums it up. If I were to point a finger it would have to be firmly at Arsene for todays result, even if few (if any) of our team played anywhere near their potential. The reason I say this is that when he finally made changes, they were like for like. Giroud came on for Podolski in or around the hour mark, a very early change by Arsene’s standards. But the problem with the change was that this pushed Theo out to the wing, meaning we carried on with the same tactics playing a 4-3-3. When the Ox was subbed off, he too was replaced like for like with Gervinho, same for Santi when he was replaced by Ramsey. We changed our players, in the hope that doing so would change the game but the problem was not our players but our tactics.

    Against Newcastle, for all that everyone is saying we won in the end because they lost their legs through tiredness, the truth as I see it, is somewhat different. With the score at 3-3 Podolski started to drop into midfield, changing our formation from a 4-3-3 in possession, 4-5-1 without, to a more traditional 4-4-2. This narrowed the playing area in midfield, something Newcastle could not cope with. It changed the game for us and led to us dominating midfield, which in turn led to a flurry of goals. It also provided more cover for Gibbs, who was arguably at fault for 2 of Newcastle’s goals. But once Poldi dropped back and played much tighter with Gibbs, they rarely threatened.

    In today’s game I would have liked to have seen the same thing. I think the Ox should have been subbed off for Giroud, with Theo playing up alongside him but slightly to the right. Poldi should have dropped back into midfield proper on our left, giving cover for both Gibbs and the midfield. We crushed Southhampton earlier in the season but they have learned their lesson. And let us be honest, they may be a candidate for relegation but they played very well today. Arsene’s insistance on playing a 4-3-3 against a 4-4-2 has become too much of a hindrance to our own creativity. Pass, pass, pass. Possession football without penetration does not win enough games to warrant its constant use.

    Many people posted on here that when we went all out against Newcastle, that was how we should play. We did not go all out but it certainly looks that way when, instead of having having only 3 in midfield (one of which is a holding midfielder) we have four. It makes a huge difference. Against a midfield consisting of 2 AM and one HM, a 4 man midfield will stand its ground, knowing that if they can break down the attack by the 2 AM’s, they only have 1 DM standing in their way. A midfield with 3 AM’s on the other hand, forces the defending midfield to drop back as a unit, as their opponents have much more options with their attacking passing than simply a 1-2 between 2 AM’s.

    This is where Rosicky is so important for us, JW too but he is still a fair bit behind Rosicky in his vision and speed of thought. Ramsey I like as a player and usually does very well when played in the middle, he did well today but he is not exactly the player we need to unlock defenses. Arshavin for me would have been a great sub today but only if he was played directly in behind Giroud. Unfortunately I do not see us seeing much, if any of our little Russian friend.

    IMO Arsene has blinded himself with his belief in his players ability, trusting in them to defeat anyone that comes before them. It is a fallacy and simply cannot be done. Tactics should and must be used to compliment our players ability, the team formation and selection changed when necessary to suit the opponent. At present that does not happen often enough. AW claims Ramsey played excellent on the wing against City, truth is in that match he played so close to midfield as to be a 4th midfielder but since then he has played further up and both he and Arsenal have suffered for it. Shite to be honest. Every team knows we will play 4-3-3, and without Theo’s pace on the wings it is a pointless formation in almost half the games we play. We are all crying out for a new striker/midfielder/defender but unless the manager either starts to change the 4-3-3, I fear it will be a pointless gesture. It may well end up being enough for 3rd or 4th in the league but will not win us anything.

    In the last few weeks I have come to the same conclusion as many Arsenal fans, in that this may indeed be the end of an era. It is a shame really as Arsene is right, his players do have the ability to beat anyone on their day and in that I share his frustration but unlike Arsene, I do not think they should be forced to do so game after game. Tactics should be part of their game-plan too, not the sole preserve of their opponents.

  41. I’m gutted that after all he has achieved and given to the club it looks like Arsene’s reign is going to end on a damp squib

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