Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Southampton preview: Coq in for three point thrust

Good morning to you, and here we go again. Football is back and with a game against Southampton a great chance to pick up three points and our first win at home since beating Man City on April 8th last season.

With regards to the team news we know Abou Diaby is going to miss out and the grapevine tells us that Francis Coquelin will fill that particular gap. I suspect that he will be asked to do what Arteta has been done with the Spaniard moving further forward to keep things ticking in the centre of the park. Fit again Wojciech Szczesny will come back in for Vito Mannone and I think that’s the right decision. The Italian has done well, kept two clean sheets and will have gained a lot of confidence from that, but the Pole is the number 1 keeper at the club and should play.

What’s good is that there will now be a little more faith in his counterpart as and when he can’t play, and such is the change in mindset that many are advocating leaving things as is. I don’t expect that but Wenger’s words about the goalkeeping situation are interesting. Laurent Koscielny is fit but you simply don’t change a back four that has kept three clean sheets and I don’t expect any changes there (although midweek rotation for the Montpellier game is inevitable).

Up front, he could well go with Giroud, the same forward trio as the Liverpool game, but he could also play Podolski as the central striker and bring in one of Gervinho or Walcott (fit again after a virus), with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other side. There’s been so much talk about Giroud and the faith people have in him to score goals that I just wonder if there’s a bit too much pressure on him. When you take into account the list of players flying around who opened their account against Southampton it’d almost feel like an anti-climax if he didn’t score today.

Which is, when you think about it, ridiculous. He hasn’t even played three full games for the club and it’s become a ‘thing’ already. I know his teammates are trying to be supportive and all that but I don’t know if it’s doing anything other than adding more pressure to the situation. Whether he feels that pressure we’ll find out later on this afternoon.

The opening home game of the season was somewhat disappointing, Sunderland sat deep and denied us space and after the first few games of this season it doesn’t strike me that Southampton are a team which plays like that. They’ve scored twice against the two Manchester clubs, and really should have taken points from United until Skunky van Earnalot rattled in two late goals, but also conceded eight in their three games. It must surely give their manager pause for thought. I’m all for attacking, swashbuckling football but there comes a time when you have to be sensible and perhaps that might see the visitors take a slightly more cautious approach today.

They’ll be facing an Arsenal side whose defensive reputation has been bolstered by three clean sheets and if we keep another one it’ll be the first time in the club’s history that we’ve gone four games into a new season without conceding. Arsene is looking for that defensive improvement to continue, saying:

Of course the real target is just to win the game, and the best way is not to concede. Let’s keep the same attitude when we don’t have the ball. Then we have a chance to achieve this. I believe that we can do it.

The change in midfield shouldn’t really cause us any difficulties. Coquelin is, by definition, a defensive midfielder and will be asked to perform with the same awareness and discipline that Arteta has in our opening games but, I suspect, will be safer with his distribution. His first outlet will probably be the Spaniard most of the time, allowing him to concentrate on his defensive work and Arteta to get things moving, but it feels pretty seamless in terms of the balance of the team.

Up top much will go through Cazorla, the little fella has gained respect according to the manager, and the quality he can provide to the three players ahead is likely to create the opportunities we need to score. It’s obvious that he and Podolski have begun to click and that’s a partnership that will become increasingly important as the season goes on. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain facing his old club he’ll be keen to impress too, not least because the manager appears to be easing him into a regular first team position and as such he needs to produce.

Overall, I think we need to be aware of Southampton’s attacking threat. They’re adventurous and they have players who can finish and finish well. But, given our defensive improvement and the fact this is another game into which new players can bed as well being a home game, which we typically dominate in terms of possession, I have to fancy us for three points today. If we play with the same focus and work-rate as the previous three games then come 4.55 or so we should be feeling pretty happy as we have the quality to hurt them and, hopefully, the players who can score the goals we need.

If you can’t see the game, due to work or being out and about on a Saturday, remember we’ve got full live blog coverage of the game. That’s mean up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 2pm for another post with all the information, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

If you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register. Giroud for first goal is 4/1.

Right, bacon to eat, large dog to walk, things to do. Catch you later for the game. Come on you reds.

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