Having sacrificed the FA Cup to rest weary legs, the pressure is now on Arsenal – and particularly manager Mikel Arteta – to ensure the Gunners come away from the south coast with three points on Tuesday.
Most fans are reasonable enough to accept that some level of rotation was necessary against Southampton on Saturday but the pill of that defeat may well become too bitter to swallow if Arsenal’s return visit ends in similar fashion.
If naught else, the Gunners should head into tonight’s clash fresher than their hosts and having learnt a little more about how Ralph Hassenhutl will set up his side. There can be little excuse, therefore, for making the same sorts of mistakes we saw on more than a few occasions in the FA Cup.
This Southampton side is a high-pressing one. They hunt in packs and they are efficient at it. It was just such targeted pressure which forced a mistake from Mohamed Elneny at the weekend and led to their winning goal. So glaring an error simply shouldn’t happen again. We’ve seen at close quarters how they operate and can’t plead ignorance.
Given that Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe, Kieran Tierney, and Bukayo Saka are likely to be available from the start, you’d think the capacity for such lapses would be curtailed and our second-half performance on Saturday suggests they will be or, at the very least, will be much less costly.
Some extra minutes in Gabriel Magalhaes’s legs will doubtless help and the gradual return of Gabriel Martinelli will also add some sharpness and aggression to our play, something noticeable by its absence at the weekend.
The only real unknown for Arsenal is the availability of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang due to ongoing personal issues. We all hope the Gabonese is given the time and space he needs to deal with those issues and I don’t think anyone would begrudge him missing tonight’s game too.
For what it’s worth, and even in Auba’s absence, I think Arsenal have enough quality, if they can cope with the Southampton press, to take all three points. We’ve been slowly growing and improving as a side over the last month and, with a tough run now ahead, it is time to bring some of those improvements to bear.
Though it’s never nice to lose a game, I think Arteta was right to rotate as heavily as he did but the only way he can justify that is with an improved and ultimately successful follow-up in the Premier League. Let’s hope his gamble pays off.