Southampton preview: Return of rested players should improve Gunners

For the second time in a matter of days we’re heading down to St Mary’s to take on Southampton. We lost 1-0 in the FA Cup, and Mikel Arteta needs better from his side tonight.

Despite the result on Saturday, there might be reasons for optimism. We lost, but it wasn’t as if we were played off the park, and the only goal of the game was a touch unfortunate from our point of view. Southampton basically played their first XI, and it appears they’ll be without their two first choice full backs as Ryan Bertrand is suspended and while Kyle Walker-Peters is struggling with a thigh problem.

Arsenal, on the other hand, rested some key players who are set to return to the starting XI this evening. We know that the players given a chance at the weekend didn’t really do a great deal to force their way into the reckoning, but a team this evening which has Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette in from the start is much more cohesive and far more effective than the one we saw in the previous game.

I think David Luiz will come in to replace Gabriel who looked very rusty in his first game back. So too did Rob Holding, to be fair, but he’s been solid enough alongside both Pablo Mari and Luiz in recent weeks, so I think they’ll give the younger Brazilian a bit more time to recover from his Covid-19 enforced absence (quite how much is down to the effects of the virus and how much is just a month without playing is impossible to say. Hopefully it’s far more the latter the former).

Granit Xhaka should partner Partey, and beyond that the only real question is who plays from the left if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains unavailable. Gabriel Martinelli started the last game and wasn’t particularly effective, however when you’re playing with a right-footed left back, and a ’10’ who is effectively the toothpaste to everyone else’s orange juice, it’s hard to get into a game properly. We’ve seen Martinelli combine well with Tierney, and with Smith Rowe, so that could be part of the thinking.

The other option is to play Saka there, start Nicolas Pepe on the right hand side and hope he can build on the flashes of positive play we saw from him in the cup game. So much of what he does is frustrating, but he did produce 5 key passes, creating a couple of decent chances, so there were some small green shoots from him. That would then allow us to keep Martinelli as an option from the bench should we need it – and when you think about who in this squad is capable of making an impact as a sub if we need to find a goal, he’s basically top of the list. He would add a level of pace and movement to the side that you just don’t get if you’re throwing on Eddie Nketiah, for example.

Mikel Arteta says of tonight:

“They are a really great team, they have a really good manager, they know exactly what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it for years now and they are good at it so we respect that and we expect a similar game on Tuesday.

“Obviously we will take things from Saturday’s game that we will analyse, we have already talked about them and will try to make them better in the next game. The one I really want to change is the result, because I want to win the game.”

Rotating for the cup was, for me at least, understandable, but defeat in that game adds to the pressure a bit for this one. Collectively, and individually, too much was lacking on Saturday, but in the end it was a single goal which separated the sides. If you’re looking for encouragement, it’s that we know we can play better and have done in recent weeks. The presence of key players in the starting line-up should make the team more effective, so if we can pose more threat – and perhaps play a 90 minute game instead of waiting for the half-time team talk to get us going – then we should be capable of a decent result later on.

As ever, we’ll have a live blog for you, and all the post-match stuff on Arseblog News.

For Patreon members, the Southampton preview podcast is here.

Later, the loan signing of Martin Odegaard is expected to be finalised and made official. He was at the training ground yesterday meeting his new teammates after undergoing his medical, and all the formalities are expected to be done and dusted today.

When it happens we have a big profile piece of him ready to get here on the main site, and a look at him from a data/stats point of view over on Arseblog News, so keep an eye out for those.

Beyond that not a great deal going on – yesterday’s Arsecast Extra is here, and I’ll catch you later for the game. Until then.

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