Arsenal look to break into the top four as Southampton visit the Emirates
Arsenal are set to resume their Premier League campaign against the team that ended their 22-match unbeaten run, when Southampton come to visit the Emirates on Sunday. For everyone, it will seem like a welcome relief to get back to league play and continue to push for a spot in the top four.
With Manchester United playing Liverpool and Chelsea off playing in the Carabao Cup final, the Gunners have an excellent chance to make up some ground on their other top-four chase partners. An Arsenal win coupled with a Manchester United loss to Liverpool would vaunt the Gunners into fourth-place with a favourable run ahead of them.
The big question remains though, how will Unai Emery set up his team and who will he utilise? Against BATE in the Europa League, in a must-win situation, Emery opted to revert back to a 4-2-3-1 and it punished the visitors with a 3-0 win.
That win also featured the return of Mesut Özil in the lineup, which in part, helped Arsenal look more like a fluid attacking team, even if it still was a little disjointed.
Emery will have clearly in his mind how Southampton came out in the last meeting, under new Manager Ralp Hasehuttl and took advantage of Emery’s negative set-up.
The last time we met
When Arsenal travelled to Southampton to kick off the festive period, Emery rolled out with a 3-4-2-1 to start against Hasenhuttl’s 5-4-1. The setup proved damning for the Gunners as they lacked any sense of creativity and managed only a paltry four shots on goal for the entire match.
Of course, the biggest issue in that match may not have been Emery’s use of the back-three, though it seems to be one of the biggest hindrances to any attacking impetus for Arsenal. His choice of players may have resulted in a disconnect, especially in defence as Emery opted for a back-three of Lichtsteiner, Koscileny and Granit Xhaka.
It was a defensive unit using two players who aren’t natural centre-backs and three players who hadn’t played together at all in a unit, especially as Koscielny was only just returning from his injury hell.
Injuries may have dictated that lineup but it shouldn’t have dictated an anemic performance from the Gunners. As mentioned previously, in this match, they managed only four shots on goal from 11 shots, double the passes completed vs Southampton (613 v 312) and the lion’s share of the possession (67% v 33%).
What Southampton did, however, that Arsenal were not able to do was take advantage of their chances. And in the end, their 3-2 victory over us was well deserved.
Strong at home
The good news for Emery is that even though Arsenal’s away woes still plague them, at home, they’ve been as resolute as ever. At home they’ve managed the third most points gained behind only Man City and Liverpool:
Man City 39
Man Utd 25
Emery, like his predecessor, Wenger, has no issues at home, understanding how to get his team playing in front of the home fans. The Gunners’ record at home under Emery is 10W 2D 1L, a record very reminiscent of the Arsenal under Wenger, even in the waning years.
That leads to hope that Emery will set his team up to be positive and now that he has natural defenders to rely on rather than a make shift back line, the hope is that it sets a solid foundation with midfield that can take advantage of a side that still trying to crawl out of the bottom of the table.
We’re all very familiar with the foe as Southampton have proved to be a bogey-side for the Gunners, especially in the festive period, for years. And under Hasehuttl they have a one of Europe’s promising managers who is desirous to make his mark on the Premier League and so far, first impressions aren’t bad.
He inherited a team struggling and struggling mightily. However, since taking over in December, Southampton have only lost three matches in 10 (4W 3D 3L). Watching them play, there are hallmarks of his RBL side that threatened the Bayern hegemony.
The Saints look to apply pressure on the opponent’s back line and love long diagonal balls into the channels that bypass the opponents’ press. The strikers look to occupy space between the CBs and midfield with smart movement to unlock a defence and run at the back line.
But the biggest difference Hasenhuttl has shown with this Southamtpon side is getting them to play. They no longer look hopeless and listless and they may yet prove a difficult opponent, even at home.
Players to watch
Arsenal: Lucas Torreira.
Southampton: Danny Ings.
Form (last five)
Arsenal league record vs Southampton
39M – 21W 11D 7L
Goals scored average per game
Arsenal: 2.15 (home)
Southampton: 1.00 (away)
Goals conceded average per game
Arsenal: 0.85 (home)
Southampton 1.77 (away)
The head coach’s take (courtesy Arsenal.com)
“Like all the teams in the Premier League, they are difficult and they will be preparing for this match with big players and also with time and for us it is difficult,” Emery said.
“We have respect [for them] but we need to impose our gameplan and quality and intensity.
“It is very important to get the three points, we are playing at home with our supporters and I want to carry on stronger here but with a big demand from ourselves to find a victory.”
Referee: Graham Scott (10M 25Y 1R)
Assistants: Mick McDonough, Neil Davies
Fourth official: Chris Kavanagh
UK: Available on Arsenal.com 14.05 GMT
US: NBC Sports Gold 9:05 AM EST
Match facts (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 23 home league games against Southampton (W17, D6).
- Southampton have won never won at Arsenal in the Premier League (D5, L14).
- However, Saints are looking to complete their first league double over Arsenal since 1988, when a 17-year-old Alan Shearer scored a hat-trick on his first league start.
- They are unbeaten in 12 Premier League home games, winning six in a row ahead of Sunday.
- The Gunners have conceded 999 Premier League goals – only seven teams have so far conceded 1,000.
- Fulham are the only club to have kept fewer Premier League clean sheets this season than Arsenal, whose four have all come at home.
- Arsenal have come from behind to earn 12 points this season – second only to Leicester’s tally of 13.
- Alexandre Lacazette could become the first Arsenal player to score in four consecutive Premier League home matches since Robin van Persie netted in five in a row from December 2011 to March 2012.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 25 goals and provided eight assists in 38 Premier League appearances, and has scored six goals in his last six home league games
Arsenal 2 – 0 Southampton
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