Arsenal, dressed in a sunny all yellow kit, are full of smiles as they await kickoff. Certainly no sign of angst in their demeanour. Either they are confident or they’re not much bothered about the kick-around. We’ll soon find out which it is.
Weather check: It’s 30C at St Mary’s. The forecast says rain is due at some point in the coming hours but right now the sky is like postcard from the Caribbean.
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Southampton’s manager notes the intense heat on the south coast and declares: “the fitter team will win today.” If that’s true, a home win seems the smart bet (note: betting is not smart).
Arteta on Guendouzi’s abence
Asked why the feisty young Frenchman is not included today, Arteta says “It’s squad management. Squad management.” And then adds intriguingly: “Whatever internal issue we have, we deal with it privately.
As you can see from the lineups below, Arteta has made four alterations to the side that started the defeat to Brighton. Leno’s injury means Martinez gets the goes, while Xhaka’s recovery means Guendouzi can … have the evening off: he’s not even on the bench. But Kolasinac and Lacazette are, as they are replaced by Tierney and Nketiah. Ozil is back in the squad but only as an onlooker for the moment. Southampton, meanwhile, stick with the same side who thumped Norwich six days ago.
Southampton: McCarthy; Valery, Stephens, Bednarek, Bertrand; Armstrong, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg; Obafemi, Redmond, Ings.
Subs: Gunn, Walker-Peters, Vestergaard, Voskins, Romeu, Smallbone, Long, Tella, Adams
Arsenal: Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Ceballos, Xhaka; Pepe, Saka, Aubameyang; Nketiah
Subs: Macey, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Smith, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Ozil, Lacazette, Willock
Referee: C Kavanagh
A post-lockdown mid-table skirmish in oppressive heat does not sound like a must-watch, but this has the makings of a fascinating match. Southampton begin three points lower in the table but seems to be in a slightly better place than Arsenal insofar as they are edging their way to brighter days under a manager who knows what’s what. Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, is still trying to make sense of the puzzle that is Arsenal. That might not even be possible, but we can sure look for clues today.
Southampton resumed the season impressively by trouncing Norwich at Carrow Road last weekend, and they will be aiming to reproduce that form at St Mary’s, where they have struggled this season, which is why they have the worst home record in the Premier League. But Arsenal do not look like fearsome visitors – they have won only twice away all season and, of course, flopped on the south coast last weekend by losing in the last minute Brighton.
That defeat confirmed that Arteta is still far from knowing how to move forward with Arsenal, a team with lots of skill but a shortage of balance, creativity, gumption and a midfield, amongst other things. They’ve also been out of luck recently, with Bernd Leno’s injury against Brighton deprived him of another key player. It’s not always easy to know who is a key player for Arsenal these days: is Alexandre Lacazette? Is Nicolas Pépé? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? Mesut Ozil? How about Dani Ceballos, whose loan was extended this week? Or David Luiz, who signed a new contract on Wednesday? There are lots of questions about this Arsenal team. This is their latest chance to begin fleshing out convincing answers.
Let’s be having you!