Our long international nightmare is finally over. Players have been released from the shackles of their national teams and are free to practice with, and play for, the clubs that pay them their salaries. They will be called up again in October, then November, and then January, February, and for good measure March but until they get the call they are free to play for us, the actual football fans.
Arsenal’s players usually suffer injures from these international breaks and this time was no different as Abou Diaby picked up a slight knock and Theo Walcott contracted a virus. Diaby is almost certainly not playing tomorrow and Theo is doubtful.
Other injuries might not be superficially apparent but sting no less: Olivier Giroud was booed by the French “fans” who apparently suck at everything in life. Responding to the boo boys, Giroud responded “When you are a forward you need time and try to not listen to the fans, above all at Stade de France, where the audience is always a little special.” Special indeed, still, Giroud could use their boos as motivation and has spoken about the need for strikers to have “tenacity and dedication”. Both qualities which will suit him well as he looks to break his duck on Saturday against Southampton.
Interestingly, there have been a number of Arsenal players who have gotten their first goal against Southampton. Most famously Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp got their first goals against the Saints. And most infamously so too did Jermaine Pennant. Let’s hope more of the former and less of the latter as a career arc for the big Frenchman, if he does score.
Oxlade-Chamberlain played for England as well and while he wasn’t booed off the pitch, Hodgson did his level best to run the youngster into the ground, playing him a total of 125 pointless minutes as England flopped around looking for redemption against the Ukraine. Given his time on the field for the Lions and Arsene Wenger’s very careful management of the young man’s playing time, you might as well treat him as returning from international duty as “slightly injured”. His inclusion tomorrow will almost certainly be as a sub if at all.
In a turn of events, Wojciech Szczesny actually used the international break as a chance to get healthy. His replacement for the last two weeks was Vito Mannone who did a fabulous job, especially against Liverpool. But despite his performances and Wenger saying that it’s a bit of a difficult choice between Vito and Wojciech I can’t see any choice but for the manager to pick the Pole: you don’t lose your starting spot due to a short injury. Long-term injury, sure, but a two week injury bumping a starter would be just plain unfair, especially when the young man shows such great promise.
Having Vito looking hungry and ready to challenge Wojciech is a good thing for Arsenal. I never rated Fabianski as a keeper and clearly Szczesny doesn’t feel especially threatened that Lukas will take his spot. That’s the main reason I wanted Arsenal to buy an experienced keeper, someone to push Szcz for his starting spot. So hopefully Mannone can fill that role.
That means I see Arsenal playing with the following lineup (baring any late-minute injuries):
Jenkinson Murdersacker Vermaelen Gibbo
Gervinho Arteta Ramsey Podolski
I’m sure you’ll all disagree and put Ox in there and say I’m being mental about the 4-4-1-1, but meh, that’s what blogs are for: I give you my well researched opinion and you tell me I’m mental.
As for the Saints, they are an interesting matchup for Arsenal as they play a sort of wide-open style of football and gave both Man U and Man City a run for their money. The Man U match was particularly telling of their style. They managed 15 shots to Man U’s 20 which is very respectable, and playing in a 4-3-3 (which reverts to a 4-5-1 when they don’t have the ball) played a lot of crosses in to their big forward Ricky Lambert.
But hearing about a big forward and lots of crosses you might be tempted to think they are long-ball merchants, they aren’t. They are dead last in aerial duels won and in long balls per game. Even weirder, Soton play the ball down the wings and have two wingers that like to cut back inside. Look for their record signing Gaston Ramirez (played for Bologna last season) to cut in from the right and shoot with his left. On the other side of the pitch, Puncheon will look to get crosses in to Lambert as he drifts extra wide to challenge Gibbs rather than mix it up with Mertesacker and Vermaelen.
Lambert also provides an outlet for Southampton when they do try to close up shop. Against United, Nigel Adkins removed Ricky Lambert and the Southampton team shape went to pot. They had a 2-1 lead and tried to defend but without Lambert winning aerial duels their clearances just came right back into the box. Eventually, United got the winner after thumping in 6 shots in the last 20 minutes.
Defensively, the Saints rely on playing the passing lanes more than crunching tackles. They lead the league in interceptions and their holding midfielder, an Alsacian named Schneiderlin, is second in the League in interceptions per game. In the 4-5-1, Schneiderlin is given freedom to roam and as such the Frenchman will be tasked with breaking up Cazorla’s attacks. If Ramsey starts, as I think he’s going to, he will have the job of threading the ball through a very crowded Southampton midfield and trying to find Cazorla in space.
Against Man U, Schneiderlin sat too deep and left Paul Scholes acres of space and time to create chances. It will be interesting to see if Arsenal play into Southampton’s hands and try to force the action near Schneiderlin or if they give the ball to Arteta and let him create from the deep lying midfielder’s position.
Arsenal’s defense, on the other hand, leads the League in both tackles attempted (76) and total won (59). This is part of the new-look Arsenal swarming defense which challenges the opposition all over the pitch for the ball. Case in point, Santi Cazorla currently has the fourth most tackles in this Arsenal team, a perfect 6 for 6.
It’s the talk of the town already but Arsenal have gone 270 minutes without conceding a goal, their best ever Premier League start, defensively. If they can make it just two minutes into the game tomorrow, they will move up two places in the all time best Premier League starts to a season. Southampton might be a good team to get that record against, in their only away match so far this season (Man City) the Saints could barely muster 10 shots and Arsenal at the moment are the stingiest team in the League in terms of shots allowed with just 9.7 overall and just 4 in their one home game. No matter how open they might try to be the Saints will find the Emirates a tough place to play.
Tomorrow’s match kicks off at 7am and is not available on terrestrial television in the States. You can watch the game live on Fox Soccer 2 Go if you have a subscription, if not check your local bar to see if they have a feed for the game. Our Man at the Match is Chary and he will be giving us a match report some time after the game tomorrow. I will be doing a By the Numbers post on Arseblog News later in the day and that will have to be your lot until Sunday.
See you then.