After two successive defeats, it’s time to get back to winning ways when we face Southampton at St Mary’s today. The hosts go into this one off the back of a 6-0 mauling by Chelsea, and Mikel Arteta says of today’s encounter:
I think you’re going to see two teams that are hurting because we are hurting after we lost the last two games, and we want to perform and win. I’m sure that after their home defeat they had they will want to do the same.
The question of changes came up at yesterday’s press conference, and while I agree in general with the manager’s assessment that it wasn’t just the fact that Granit Xhaka was at left back that saw us lose to Brighton, it certainly didn’t help and today I want to see him in midfield. I have to say found this particular comment a bit odd:
Look at the stats when the team has played with Granit as a left-back. They don’t get much better than that.
Perhaps he’s delved into this on much more granular level than I have, but in terms of results, it’s definitely a mixed bag. Here’s what happened with Xhaka at left-back last season:
Am I a bit worried that Xhaka will start there again today? Yes. The subject turned to Nuno Tavares and whether or not Arteta trusted him to play, and he replied:
To show trust and for the player to show trust to us is that I’m going to give them the opportunity when I believe that he is ready to do that. When I see in the moment that he is doubting I don’t do him any favours by putting him in there.
Whether enough has changed this week in training for Tavares to get a chance today remains to be seen. It sounds like Arteta thinks he wasn’t in the right frame of mind or confident enough, but then if you’ve been taken off at or before half-time in your only two starts of 2022, that’s not a massive shock. It’s a two way street of course, play well and you stay on. However, the manager has to find a way to make it work today, not necessarily with Nuno, but definitely with not Xhaka – his presence in the centre of the park is required.
The absence of Alexandre Lacazette was mentioned, with no great details but he’s reportedly been ill so chances are it’s Covid related. He may well be available today, but his availability isn’t the big question. I’d be glad to have him on the bench because this squad needs every bit of depth it can get and it’s possible he could make an impact as a substitute. But I don’t want to see him start today. His recent performances under any normal circumstances would lead to him being dropped and I don’t see why it should be any different now.
Give the captain’s armband to someone else. Give an opportunity to Gabriel Martinelli or Eddie Nketiah. It’s not that they’re going to be guaranteed to score or immediately become the solution to all of our centre-forward problems, but we have to do something different and although our options are limited, form has to play a part in team selection. Lacazette’s is in the toilet right now, and the consequences of that for him or any other player is to sit down and watch someone else try and do the job.
Last week we expected a reaction from the defeat to Palace, and instead were found wanting against Brighton. Today we’re looking for a response to both those games, and unless we get it we’re going to kiss goodbye to any outside possibility of the top four. Whether that carrot dangling in the distance has caused some pressure, or tension as Arteta mentioned last week, I don’t know, but this is what you have to deal with at this end of the Premier League table.
Let’s hope we see better this afternoon.
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Right, let’s leave it there, and I’ll catch you later for the game.