Southampton vs Arsenal: How will a tired Arsenal cope with Southampton's relentless energy?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
A traumatic defeat at the Amex Stadium on Saturday afternoon has left Arsenal fans physically sick at the prospect of this dire season continuing. Unfortunately it does, and it doesn't get any easier.
Arsenal travel to St. Mary's on Thursday evening to face Ralph Hasenhuttl's relentless pressing machine in 14th placed Southampton. Not exactly the opposition you'd want to face after having lost two on the bounce, particularly when your players looked psychically and mentally exhausted in the last 20 in your previous fixture.
This 14th place not really an accurate reflection of Southampton's performance either. The underlying metrics suggest they really ought to be a few places higher, boasting the same xG difference as ourselves, and the second best xGF outside the current top six. Hasenhutl's aggressive gegenpressing system is reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool system, if not possessing an even more emphatic and potent press than the near Champions. Of course, they don't have the same quality in their side as Klopp's men, but the ferociousness in which they close you down is freighting, led from the front by in form Danny Ings, who is just one goal short of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's league total.
How a (unacceptably) fatigued Arsenal side will cope with this pressing is going to be intriguing, and one for Arteta to work out. If we're able to play through the Southampton press, our pacy and dynamic forward players should get many opportunities to expose their relatively vulnerable back four, but it's that deep distribution that will be the problem. Opting for a mobile and agile midfield three could be the key to doing so, and hopefully Arteta will realise this.
Whatever side he opts for, we must come with a game plan to work around this press, and not demonstrate the all too familiar flakiness we're used to seeing when we're pressed aggressively.
As for our line-up, I'm expecting a similar team to the one that faced Brighton, albeit with a few necessary changes. Martinez will obviously come in from the start following Leno's injury, whilst most of the back four should stay the same.
Cedric, Sokratis, Luiz and Mari are all unavailable, so Bellerin, Mustafi and Holding should retain their places. At left-back, after Tierney was understandably rested on Sunday, I expect him to come back into the side in place of Kolasinac.
In midfield, Guendouzi is practically nailed in to start all games at the moment, whilst Saka's impressive display as a mezalla means he'll also likely start in the same role. Ceballos looked exhausted against Brighton, and that was reflected in his performance, and whilst Willock is an option there, I'd personally like to see Maitland-Niles given an opportunity- someone who can give us a bit more aggression and athleticism in there.
As for our front three, Aubameyang will start in his inside forward role, whilst Pepe deserves a chance to build on his excellent goal as he searches for consistency. Lacazette's absence in front of goal in away matches means he shouldn't feature in this game, and I'd expect Nketiah to be drafted back in as the pair rotate
Predicted Line-Up: Martinez, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney, Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles, Saka, Pepe, Nketiah, Aubameyang.
Prediction: Southampton 1-1 Arsenal