So back to the action. Southampton pitch up at the Emirates, cast as sacrificial lambs which is hardly surprising given that they haven’t won a league match in this part of north London in three decades. Of more concern to the Saints will be the fact that they haven’t won a league match this season.
It’s a day of expectations. Arsenal are expected to field at least one of the late transfer window additions today. It will be a huge surprise if Shkodran Mustafi doesn’t partner Laurent Koscielny in the centre of the defence, relegating Rob Holding to the bench. The youngster has done well alongside the more experienced French international but with PSG looming large in the fixture list, Arsène will want the new partnership to have some game time together.
Ever optimistic, he noted that both Mustafi and Lucas Perez had settled quickly at the club, no doubt helped by their fluency in English. As Wenger observed, it’s matches where their value to the squad will be shown and today sees Arsène face a former colleague. He lavished praise on Claude Puel, as you might expect from a manager to a former player. And one he evidently regarded highly.
With Perez, the decision on whether he plays is less straightforward. Much will depend on how Alexis shaped up after a long flight back. It’s a test of Wenger’s belief that he has his most “mature” squad in some time. It isn’t just physically where maturity counts; it’s mentally as well. Part of that would be a player ‘fessing up that he isn’t in the best shape following a long flight home. Whether that’s happened or not is another matter.
The major additions this summer are certainly tried and tested. There’s a risk with every signing that it may not work out but Granit Xhaka seems to be adapting quickly, we need the two newcomers from La Liga to do the same. Experience ought to mean that we handle pressure better than before but with Arsenal that isn’t always the case. Yes, the pressure of qualifying for the Champions League has been swatted aside in the same way that we have seen the squad crumble at the prospect of being champions at the end of the season.
Returning to starting XI this afternoon will also be Olivier Giroud. The French striker enjoyed the summer have endured spring. We wait to see which Giroud will turn up: the goal-shy attacker we’ve seen for most of this year at club level or the hungry, enthusiastic striker the French had at Euro 2016? Arsène highlighted Lucas Perez’s versatility yesterday, almost emphasising that the Spaniard can “play down the middle”; a veiled threat to Giroud or general observation?
The line-up is fairly predictable for this one with few changes from the Watford match:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Cazorla; Walcott, Ōzil, Sanchez; Giroud
It’s an XI which ought to be good enough to win comfortably. We made relatively short work of Watford and at the moment, I think Southampton are playing at their level.
Inevitably, yesterday’s press conference turned to Jack Wilshere’s loan to Bournemouth. Wilshere, Wenger believes, will sign a new deal at the club, as early as Christmas this year apparently. The praise was effusive from the manager – Jack’s world-class, an Arsenal man, a football man who could manage Arsenal at some point and who will stay in football his whole working life. If football is work, of course.
It’s easy to question why Wenger sent him on loan if he’s that good. Fitness is the issue and stories emerged that Jack wasn’t training full-time with Bournemouth yet, preparing for matches with rest as much as exertion. Whether it’s the right move is another matter. Certainly Wenger’s words run contrary to the view that Wilshere won’t be back at Arsenal.
Platitudes, of course. Wenger was hardly likely to say that Wilshere was in the shop window, is he? Jack, like Giroud, seems to be a player people love or hate. I understand why there is frustration but it seems born of persistent injuries than lack of ability. The move to the south coast is a test for him in that respect. Get fit, get playing and then come back to challenge for a place in the team.
Of course, if he stays fit that raises some awkward questions for Arsenal to answer, particularly if he gets anywhere over 30 games in the Premier League…
That’s for another day though. Today is matchday and that’s all that matters. That and three points…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.