Blimey, there’s so much to talk about this morning, that I’m not sure my 45 minute Met Line journey into the Big Smoke will allow me enough time to digest. Usually, on the day of a game, all of my prose is reserved for reviewing our opponents, our injuries and how we approach the game. But yesterday we had a smorgasbord of news.
Firstly, we had Arsene’s presser, in which Le Boss did come across as a little spiky with the journos asking him questions. I thought I caught a glimpse of an Arsene Wenger with a ‘little bit cold and flu symptoms’, which may have explained why the usual jovial Wenger – certainly this season with our league form – seemed a little off colour. Literally.
He was also pressed about Mourhino’s comments about Arsenal having more rest time and therefore being favoured by the authorities, which I’m sure an Arsene in usual chipper and playful mood would have retorted with a simple wry smile and a ‘move along’ style response. Instead, he sounded off on a scarily similar Rafa Benitez-style commentary about ‘facts’, to which the media of course latched on to straight away. Almost instantly we had TalkShite talking about how Arsene has already lost the ‘mind games’. Eh??? What mind games? And how has he lost? It seems to be the accepted narrative that Mourhino moaning is seen as ‘mind games’, but from any other manager in the league it is a sign of weakness. If the British media could just for a second retrieve their craniums from the Portuguese’s rectal passage, I’m sure they’d probably see what the rest of the world sees. You only have to look at his return to the Premier League and the fawning that happened, to see what the press want to see, because they were one-stop short of bringing him into his first presser in August on the back of an elephant surrounded by velvet cushions.
Anyway, enough of that, as it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth that no amount of burning Listerine can wash away. The club yesterday announced the biggest deal in our history with Puma, who after months of us all basically knowing the details already, have now been brought in on the worst kept secret at the club. It’s a great deal and further cements our global pulling power. It will also help to give more stability to the club and hopefully will be used – at least in part – to reinvest in the playing staff. Ivan said nice things, the Puma CEO said nice things, everyone smiled and you can read the comments on the official site.
I like Puma. It’s quite a cool brand.
So, how about tonight’s game then? It’s an interesting one and a few weeks back when I said the run up to the Liverpool game had key fixtures that had to be won, the fixture that I looked upon with most trepidation was Southampton away. They have a good core of players, they have a strong ethos of pressing high up the pitch and they will be a threat tonight on their home turf, make no mistake.
I’m normally quite good at remembering games and reliving them in my mind. But where a game has been pretty dire, I tend to compress the memory of the game (to save file size in my brain), then archive it in a corner somewhere where I’ll only have to access it perhaps once or twice, ever. That’s what happened with last years game. It was such a turgid affair that I’ve only stored the fact it was 1-1, we played poorly and it was on New Year’s Day. Everything else is a blank. Even the scorers. And I like it that way. Suffice to say we need more from the team tonight than we got last year.
There may be question marks over the Southampton team – having stuttered somewhat over the Christmas period and into the New Year – but on their own soil they won’t want a repeat of the Chelski drubbing they took and so I expect Porchettino’s men to be up for this big game under the floodlights. I think they will press us high, look to catch us cold in defence and if they get a lead, sit on it. The danger of that is that they sit too deep and invite pressure, but rather than be in that situation I’d much prefer us to get a goal or two ahead and concern ourselves with hitting them on the counter when they push bodies forward.
I know they’ll be missing Danny Osvaldo due to a club-imposed suspension and I believe they will also be missing Loevren as well. He’s been a good player for them defensively this season and it will be a blow, but they will still have enough defensively with their two holding midfielders, plus the threat of Lallana, Lambert and Rodriguez to give our back four food for thought.
Our news is positive, with the return to the first team of Arteta and Ramsey bolstering our numbers at the perfect time. I don’t think either will play, but I do think at least one will be involved from the substitutes bench at least. Our back five should remain the same as our last game, with the only query surrounding a. Nacho/Kieran inclusion. After some fine performances from the Spaniard recently, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were given the nod, with the view that we will need a more offensive-minded Gibbs against Crystal Palace at the weekend.
Wilshere is a doubt for tonight and it’s for that reason that I think Arsene won’t risk him. He doesn’t have to; we have enough quality in the middle of the park to ensure that we make up for the drive that he has. So I think we’ll see Flamini and perhaps Rosicky sitting as the ‘double pivot’, with Cazorla, Özil and Gnabry in front of them and Giroud up top. It will be a little harsh on a Podolski that performed well against Coventry, but with questions still arising over his fitness, I’d be surprised if he was used from the start having started against Coventry.
Tonight is yet another one of those games that, if you want to win the league, you have to be going to win. We have had a lot of these obstacles that we’ve overcome so far this season, i.e. Tricky away games that always offer a banana skin or two, but we’ve managed to navigate them for most of the season so I hope we do the same tonight. I don’t think Liverpool, Chelski or Moneychester City will drop points tonight or tomorrow, so the onus really is on us to try and keep them at arms length at the top of the league.
Keep those fingers crossed Gooners, because I think this is going to be tough tonight.