About bloody time, eh?
Just the 13 days without any real football at all, and I think I almost turned into some sort of footballing werewolf. Well, my chin had a bit of stubble on it and I growled at TalkShite last night whilst making dinner.
Today we’re up against a Southampton side that effectively bares no resemblance to the naive and probably a little star-struck Southampton side that we bulldozed 6-1 at The Emirates last season. They were fresh-faced and new kids on the block in the Premier League and it showed, as two own goals, plus two from Gervhino of all people, saw us destroy the Saints within the first half. That day was the first goal we conceded of the season against the odd one that Southampton got, but it’s our opponents today who have the defensive stability and miserly attitude to breaching their net, with just five goals conceded all season. And if you’re questioning whether they’ve played any of the ‘big boys’, then you need look no further than a 1-0 win at Liverpool and a 1-1 draw at United to see just how formidable they are and how much more tighter they have become as a defensive unit. The seeds of change could probably have been seen as early as January this year, when we visited Southampton and picked up just a point from a resolute performance, from a coach in Pochettino that has turned around the clubs fortunes without seemingly being able to speak much of the Queen’s language.
Southampton press high up the pitch and rely on closing down spaces from the front. With Rodriguez and Lallana they have two new internationals to accompany Lambert, and as a collective they’ll go into today’s match full of confidence sitting third in the league. Most likely we’ll see the imposing Wanyama sitting just in front of the defence, and much as most ‘keepers coming to play against The Arsenal, you just know Artur Boruc is probably going to have the game of his life today.
But I’m not as nervous as I have been with games like this of the past. I have a little bit of worry because we’re up against a good team, but it is the mark of how we are playing this season that we can go into games like these feeling confident, and hoping for three points. We’ve got every reason to believe that a home game against any team in this division should see us pick up maximum points. We’ve got confidence coursing through the veins of the players at the moment and, thankfully, it seems as though the footballing Gods saw fit to grant our players at least some rest time during this recent international boredom.
I suspect we’ll see a very familiar team to the one that lined up at Old Trafford, minus Vermaelen for Mertesacker and Flamini through suspension. It’s a blow that we’re missing our spikey Frenchman, but there’s a few that have questioned the need for both Arteta and Flamini in the team and so today represents another opportunity to see if that theory rings true. Personally, I feel our midfielders are all so adaptable and interchangeable, that Arteta can play in a more advanced position and so having both Matthieu and Mikel in the same side could work, but today Le Boss’ hands are tied in making a decision there anyway. I think we’ll see Wilshere alongside Arteta with Santi, Mesut and Rambo today. In the recent ‘Twitter Takeover’ that was run by the club with Arsene, he said Jack’s best position is as a deeper lying midfielder and so I think our Jacky will be given the chance to prove that again. Up top we’ll of course see Olivier re-assume the usual position.
It’s a strong team that is full of confidence and, providing we are fully up for it, should in theory have too much for Southampton. But it will depend on how we start. Southampton will try to stifle our passing out from the back by closing the ball quickly, but an early goal will see them deflate a bit, so if we can start quickly within the first 15 minutes and put away a chance or two, I’d fancy our chances of finishing them off. We’ve not been coming from behind much this season, but if we do go behind it will also be interesting. Porchettino will have a decision to make on whether he recommends his side continue to press and harry us, or whether he sticks with a lead and tries to shut down The Arsenal. We shall wait and see.
What we will see today will be a stronger bench for us. With Monreal, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Gnabry and Walcott all not mentioned in my starting line-up, it means for the first time this season we’re not all looking at each other wondering where that something special is going to come from on the bench. Splendidly, it also means that complete waste of a squad place Niklas Bendtner might not make it on to the bench and with Poldi also due back in a few weeks, his route to the Emirates pitch will be blocked even further.
We went into the interlull off the back of a defeat and it’s important that we don’t see a pattern of defeats, draws or disappointing results in a crucial point in the season. I said last week that five wins from our next eight will see us top of the league at the halfway stage and you have to look at today’s games as one of the wins that you need to have to make sure that you are well prepared for the rush to be a Christmas number one.
Scream yer ‘earts out if you’re going, because we need this today.