Match Preview: Southampton v Arsenal; Anger Managed
Earlier this week, Andrew Mangan from Arseblog explored the less angry, if not muted, reaction to Arsenal’s defeat by Manchester United. It’s worth thinking about this collective psychological shift as Arsenal prepare to visit Southampton on Sunday.
Although I have disagreed with Andrew from time to time, in general I find him a thoughtful, measured, and articulate observer of the club. I would certainly trust his read on the mindset of Arsenal supporters online.
So when he notes that – apart from those outlets that traffic in outrage – the reaction to Saturday’s home loss was “less acute,” that seems like a reasonable statement about a changing mentality.
He goes on to speculate about the reasons for this change: A combination of Manchester City’s breakaway form, “weary resignation” or apathy over past perceived failures, fatigue with what some view as the same story unfolding, anticipation of the end of manager Arsène Wenger’s era.
All could be true.
What I’ll say is that whatever the source, this represents a healthy turn. The vitriol of yore certainly didn’t do the Arsenal players any service – all the research on sports psychology indicates that a supportive environment is one of the elements grounding elite athletes’ success.
What’s more, I don’t think it’s particularly functional for those up in arms, either. We are talking about a sporting endeavor here, something that’s supposed to be at least entertaining and at most enjoyable. Individuals don’t survive very long hating what they should be enjoying.
In that light, for the love of Bergkamp, please try to find something to relish about the Gunners’ encounter with the Saints on Sunday.
We probably have the genius of Mesut Özil and the superhuman drive of Alexis Sanchez for a short amount of time, so take pleasure in what they do. We haven’t seen a striker like Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal in a good while; watch his movement and guile. We’re blessed with one of the world’s top all-around midfielders – do yourself a favor and be amazed at the skill and stamina of Aaron Ramsey.
If you’re also, like myself, interested in the interactions of the complex organism that is a professional football side, take a few minutes during the match to focus on the interplay among Özil, Ramsey, and Granit Xhaka. The understanding of space, the timing, the skill, and the synchronization of movement by these three are a joy to behold.
It’s a human endeavor, though, which means it won’t be perfect and may not meet our expectations. Accepting that fact may, indeed should, reduce the emotional stakes. All the better.
Trends to Watch
Center half Shkodran Mustafi won’t play due to a thigh strain. Until the self-destruction against Manchester United, Mustafi was part of a defensive trio that had not lost a match. Will the manager replace Mustafi with a member of the squad, Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, or will he restructure the defense as a back four? He did that in the no-risk setting of Thursday’s Europa League contest with BATE Borisov. As a consequence, the flow through midfield was noticeable.
Such a setup would also be a way to reintroduce Jack Wilshere to the Premier League XI. Wilshere can’t do much more to prove he’s worthy of a league start than he’s done in his cup outings.
The guess here is that, away from home less than 72 hours after the previous match, Wenger sticks with three central defenders and goes with Mertesacker in the middle.
How the Match Plays Out
Southampton took the imperious Manchester City to the brink of a draw in midweek last week, so the going won’t be easy for Arsenal. Despite their less-than-prolific goalscoring record this season, Saints can feature Charlie Austin again up front. The former QPR man has troubled the Gunners in the past.
But midfield is the key to this one. Arsenal set the platform there to permit the attacking talent to thrive; this happens on Sunday, giving one of the Gunners’ relentless attackers enough support to find the Southampton net.
Players to Watch
Arsenal. Mesut Özil. The German is in the top form of his Arsenal stay, just as his contract winds down. Watch and cherish his wizardry while you can.
Southampton. Oriol Romeu. Southampton’s noteworthy performances in recent years have come when the Spaniard has ruled the midfield. If he dominates that crucial area the way he can, Saints will have a foundation to trouble Arsenal.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris), Mustafi (thigh)
Southampton: Soares (hamstring)
Goals Scored Per Match (season average)
Goals Conceded Per Match (season average)
Referee: Bobby Madley (7M, 25Y, 2R)
Assistant referees: S Child, M Perry
Fourth official: G Scott
UK: BT Sport, 1200 GMT
US: NBCSN, 7:00 AM EST
Southampton 0 – 1 Arsenal
The Manager’s Take (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
There should be goals because they are an offensive team as well, with offensive potential.
They have Charlie Austin back now, and of course they have players like Tadic, Redmond, Boufal who are all very strong offensively. They have a good technical level as a team and both side can create chances so there could be goals there.
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Southampton’s 2-0 defeat at St Mary’s in May was their first in six Premier League home games against Arsenal (W2, D3).
- Arsenal haven’t won successive away league games against Southampton since 1997.
- The Gunners also won 5-0 at Saints in an FA Cup fourth-round tie in January.
- Southampton have won one of their last six league matches, drawing two and losing three.
- Saints have scored just 23 goals in 26 league matches since the start of April, and just 10 in their last 15 home league matches.
- They could earn back-to-back home league wins for the first time this year.
- Fraser Forster has conceded just five goals in his five Premier League games against Arsenal, despite the Gunners having 30 shots on target.
- Charlie Austin has scored seven goals in his last 10 Premier League starts for Southampton, including three in his last two.
- Austin has scored in his previous two Premier League appearances against Arsenal, but ended up on the losing side for QPR on both occasions.
- Arsenal have won seven of their last 10 league matches, losing three.
- The Gunners have only won two of their seven away league matches this season (D1, L4).
- Arsenal’s tally of 11 league defeats in 2017 is their worst in a calendar year under Arsene Wenger and includes nine away losses.
- Only Alexis Sanchez (9) and Ian Wright (10) have scored more goals in their first 15 Premier League appearances for Arsenal than Alexandre Lacazette’s tally of eight.