A lunchtime assignment in the Premier League against the most out of form team in the division with one central defender. What could possibly go wrong?
While Arsene wasn’t averse to using a full-back in the centre, if Unai Emery decides to play three at the back, it’s his two most experienced full-backs will fill in. The Spaniard is taking the banter era one louder.
It’s flippant to view it that way, I know, but is it that much of a concern? The other way to look at it is the 3-4-3 formation itself. Will the two full-backs be more aware of the gaps behind the wing-backs than a centre-back? On the left, Monreal covering Kolasinac provides some reassurance, doesn’t it?
The reality is that Emery has options. Monreal, at least, is accustomed to filling in the central duties and if either he or Lichtsteiner isn’t working out, there’s always the option of switching to a back four.
I’m assuming he won’t slot Elneny in as a ‘sweeper’ behind Monreal and Koscielny, which is the sort of leftfield Emery tactical switch we’re becoming accustomed to.
To say I’m comfortable with the full-backs flanking Koscielny is over-stating the case. But I’m not filled with fear at the prospect. That, in part, is down to confidence in Emery to find the solutions we need for a win today.
Southampton’s new boss will no doubt get some ‘boost’ from the players. We’ve been here before, infamously with Stuart Pearce’s ‘eleven outfield players and no goalkeeper’ XI at Forest.
If Ralph Hasenhüttl – not Hfuhruhurr – inspires the Saints to better performance levels this quickly, how the hell did the previous manager last so long in the job? Its football is the answer. An industry where failure is just another job opportunity in the making.
The Pushing Is Nothing New
The point isn’t lost on Emery either:
Southampton have some very good players and a new coach who has good experience and good performances in Germany. On Sunday I think they are going to push against us a lot. We need to prepare very well for the match with a very big personality because we want to be consistent. Every challenge is to continue doing that and Sunday is a big challenge and a big match, and also we are looking forward to continuing our improvement and good moment knowing that it’s difficult.
The Spaniard’s approach is helped by Lucas Torreira’s form. Emery is impressed by the way the Uruguayan settled into the English game.
I think he has the quality and he also has our help. He’s very humble and this humbleness is good for every day, and helping him achieve both his individual objectives and those with the group. His performances have been good and, like every player, he is working with a very big commitment every day.
His comments are similar to those made by Steve Bould recently when he and Sal Bibbo were interviewed on dot com. Torreira is a player we’re going to see transfer stories about in the future even if we return to the Champions League. That’s my unsettling prediction for the future, anyway.
The other issue for Emery to decide is whether Mesut Ozil plays from the start or off the bench. While it’s easy to quip about the game being too physical for him, his back injury is debilitating in that sense. On a day with a makeshift defence in situ, is the German the kind of player we need? Or do the circumstances provide Henrikh Mkhitarayan with another opportunity?
It’s Just Numbers On Paper
There’s no doubt the Armenian is underperforming in the attacking third. However, his defensive work in support of the wing-backs is just what the coach ordered. That is as important today as anything else.
Yet the option of a 3-5-1-1 formation with Guendouzi in the centre and Ozil supporting Aubameyang can’t be ruled out. This is where Emery is an exciting coach. The predictability of recent years is gone and the tactics fit the opposition.
All of which pontificating leaves the line-up:
Leno; Lichtsteiner, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Aubameyang
Enjoy the match wherever you’re watching it.