Although it’ll be a match played out in the comforts of home, I don’t expect Sunday’s visit of Southampton to be easy for Arsenal.
A decent all-round victory on Thursday against BATE Borisov allowed the Gunners the chance to build a little momentum but, in truth, it won’t have too much bearing on how the Saints match plays out.
The defensive issues that have peppered our season will more than likely still be in evidence and we will still afford our opponents too many opportunities to get at our goal. The return of Sokratis Papastathopolous will help that situation, but the Greek can’t work miracles.
Southampton was the point in December where our season started to unravel a little after our lengthy unbeaten run. A couple of defensive suspensions left us vulnerable and the new manager bounce enjoyed by Southampton conspired – along with the wretched Charlie Austen – to see us defeated.
It was a defeat that really set us back as a side and finally exposed the cracks that we had, up until that point, papered over with our excellent attacking efforts.
Since then, we have had to find ways to win in the absence of any real over-arching sense of style or method. While there is much to be said for no-frills pragmatism, a lack of creativity has cost us a little in some games.
Our lineup against BATE, featuring Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang, and Alex Iwobi carried a lot of potency and direct running but I don’t see Unai Emery repeating that mix.
If anybody makes way, it will almost certainly be Ozil, though he enjoyed a reasonable return to the side against BATE.
Given his form and level of all-round contribution, Alexandre Lacazette has to come back into the team and, consequently, someone has to make way.
Personally, I think Ozil’s impact in terms of creativity is exactly what is required in matches like the one we face against Southampton but I don’t think Emery will see it that way.
I suspect he will prefer the ball-carrying contributions of Iwobi and Mhkitaryan, coupled with a midfield pairing of Lucas Torriera and Granit Xhaka. If he does go down that route, I hope Ozil will be an option from the bench, to be used if things prove a little stagnant.
I think Southampton will look to press hard and high and turn the ball over in our defensive third. It is a tactic that yielded good results for them at St Mary’s earlier in the season and, to be honest, is a style of playing that causes this Arsenal side a lot of problems.
That said, it is a game that Arsenal should win and win relatively well. That’s not to say I wouldn’t take a 1-0 win, because fixtures elsewhere over the weekend may present us with an excellent opportunity to turn up the pressure on the top four, but it would be nice to see the team begin to establish a little method to the madness.