Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Southampton preview: Rotation ahoy and Diaby set to return

Capital One Cup action tonight against high-flying Southampton and it’s a game in which I expect the manager will rotate his team quite heavily.

With confirmation that Mathieu Debuchy is out for at least three months and Nacho Monreal won’t be available again until after the October Interlull, the manager can’t afford to risk his senior defenders for this one.

Nevertheless, I’d expect Calum Chambers to start as his youth means he’s got more recovery juice than the likes of Mertesacker and Koscielny. Hector Bellerin should start at right back with Isaac Hayden the second central defender, but who exactly plays at left back is a bit of a puzzle.

He could play Gibbs but he’s not the most robust player of all time so I think we might see Arsene get his Coq out, or play Mathieu Flamini in there. In midfield there are loads of options with a fit again Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere all candidates, while up front Joel Campbell and Lukas Podolski will get a chance to impress.

There are other youngsters like Chuba Akpom and Semi Ajayi in the squad as well, and we’ll see a first start for Colombian keeper David Ospina, so there’s a real Capital One Cup feel to it. Despite the changes though, the manager isn’t taking Southampton lightly, and was full of praise of them pre-game, saying:

They are miracle workers at Southampton. Everybody expected them to collapse, they lost the spine of their team, they lost their manager and they bounced back in such a strong way. I must say that when I saw them against Liverpool on the opening day of the season when they lost, I thought straight away that this team is very strong and very good.

Ronald Koeman has a great experience as a coach. He has done a great job.

I know it’s early days but they are second in the league at the moment, and when you consider the players they sold this summer, then you have to say that’s impressive. It should make for an interesting game this evening, with players like Campbell and Podolski looking to catch the eye to convince the manager they’re worth of more playing time, and there’s a return for Abou Diaby who made his last appearance for us on May 11th 2014 but whose previous game came in March 2013.

I’ve never quite understood why he’s been the subject of so much aggressive stick from certain fans. I think he’s been rather unfairly lumped into the Denilson/Bendtner bracket, a symbol of the failed post-Highbury move policy. Of course his injury record is terrible, and you can legitimately question the decision to extend his contract, but it’s not as if he’s some kind of Winston Bogarde who has been happy to sit around and pick up his wages.

All he’s ever wanted to do is play football for us and I think if people knew the extent of his tribulations and how hard he’s tried, they’d be a lot more sympathetic. He’s had countless operations, consultations and has considered retirement more than once, but his desire to play (and play for us) kept him going. He doesn’t pick the team, he doesn’t make the decisions about his contract, and when you consider most of his issues stem from that brutal injury he picked up at Sunderland, I think what we did as a club should be commended, not criticised.

The issue for me was how long we left it to understand that having him as a player we were somewhat reliant on was misguided. Now, he’s a bonus player. If fit somebody who has qualities that this midfield can often do with and the manager has praised his outlook during the difficult times:

Diaby is a giant, mentally. To do what he has done, with the severe injuries he has had,  he comes back every time, is dedicated and he deserves a lot of respect. I’m a huge believer in his quality and I’m sad as well that he couldn’t show it more. If there is some justice, the future will be much better for him.

Whether that future is with us remains to be seen. He’s got less than 12 months on his current deal and at this point it’s practically impossible to justify giving him a new one, but maybe between now and May he can make a contribution on the pitch and if he does, that ought to be appreciated rather than mocked.

As for the game tonight, I’m not sure if we’ll have a live blog because it’s not on any TV channel I have but if I can find a decent stream then we’ll do something.

A quick plug again for this week’s Arsecast Extra in which we look back at the hilarity of the weekend just gone, and answer questions about Calum Chambers propensity for yellow cards, the form of Aaron Ramsey and we discover exactly what’s going on with Gervinho’s non-spaghetti hair. Listen here.

You’ll also notice (if you listen) that we’ve announced a live Arsecast Extra recording taking place on October 6th in the Union Chapel bar on Upper Street. Tickets are quite limited and go on sale tomorrow (£10), so I’ll provide details of how to get them then, but it’ll be a nice evening with the usual Arsecast Extra waffle, a Q&A, a special guest and, of course, a bar so we can all have a nice glass of BabyCham together.

So, put the date in your diary, October 6th – just after the Chelsea game so we should have plenty to discuss … *cough*

Right, that’s that. Hopefully we’ll have a live blog for you later on, if not more tomorrow as we look back on the Capital One Cup.

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