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Arsenal-Southampton: Fight or flight, respite or uproar

Pressure is mounting and the matches are coming thick and fast. Arsenal need to stand up and fight for their season. Today. Now.

After losses, Arteta can often be quoted saying he prefers his team play a game as soon as possible. Well, for the first time in quite a while, they will get the opportunity to bounce back in a Premier League match, not Europa League. Just 72 hours after their 1-0 loss to Burnley in which is another moment of madness saw their hopes of getting a win dissipate, they will go again.

I suppose you could say Arsenal have bounced back well after Premier League losses since the international break — if you consider winning with in the Europa League a bounce back. However, the form hasn’t stuck, the disastrous Premier League form continues, and now Arsenal will face a 4th place Southampton side brimming with confidence, boosted further by having gotten their main man Danny Ings back from injury in their 3-0 win over Sheffield United.

Since Arsenal have been on a torrid run of breaking all the wrong records records this season — like never having lost to Burnley in the Emirates — here is another longterm record on the line: Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 25 home league matches against Southampton dating back to 1987.

Given their recent run of form, and the great style of play Ralph Hasenhuttl has them playing, Southampton are going to be a massive challenge. But as Arteta points out, every team is proving tough at the moment.

“Every opponent is going to be really difficult in the Premier League. We know they are in a really good moment, they are building something over time and you see the results and the progression the team has had – last year they had some difficulties for a period, they came through that and look really strong and they are a very dangerous team.”

I’m sure there was nothing measured about that list bit… But he’s right. Southampton had a rocky start in 2019, bit of a rocky middle, but ended with 4 wins and 3 draws in their final 7 matches to end on a high note. Now they have began their campaign with 7 wins and 2 draws in their first 12 matches.

Their success has come from the feet of James Ward-Prowse, Che Adams, and Danny Ings, while their high press causes trouble off the ball. From an Arsenal perspective, it’s two things they haven’t handled well this season.

Teams with impressive presses like Manchester City, Liverpool, Aston Villa, and even Leeds, were able to make life difficult for the Arsenal defense and midfield who struggle to progress the ball through the lines, rushing them into mistakes or forcing a long ball. It seems odd that just a few months ago, Arsenal were dicing through Manchester City and Liverpool to score in the FA Cup and Community shield, but the ability to play securely under pressure has evaded the Gunners of late in a major way.

The second aspect Arsenal have struggled with is shutting down key men despite it being obvious it is their opposition’s intent. Look no further than the North London Derby where Kane and Son tore Arsenal apart, but there are others. Jamie Vardy when Leicester came to The Emirates or Jack Grealish spring to mind. With all due respect to Southampton’s trio, they should be a bit more manageable, but time will tell and Arsenal will still need to stay mentally switched on for the full match.

Southampton couldn’t be having more of a polar opposite campaign than Arsenal is at this point. Overachieving match after match, the Saints are banging in goals but conceding their fair share. Conversely, Arsenal are drastically underachieving and can’t stick the ball in the back of the net to save their season. Tomorrow, whether he would have chosen to or not, Arteta will change things up to try and get a much-needed result.

With Hector Bellerin suspended for one match and Granit Xhaka suspended for three after his red card for choking Burnley’s McNeil, the lineup is guaranteed to have at least two key differences. Personally, I believe there may be a few more which is something I am looking forward to.

For those lineup and match predictions, checkout the Arsenal-Southampton Lineup blog also published this morning.

Arsenal may have come out in full force to say they are 100% backing Arteta, but one imagines that won’t last if no points are gained in the coming weeks. The pressure is mounting as Arteta’s good graces from his early trophy wins crash from the sky. The bottom has well and truly fallen out, and the free fall seems unending.

I feel the pressure all of the time. When we have those spells, everything has not been beautiful. The last few months of last summer there were a lot of difficult moments, believe me. There wasn’t everything nice and easy and enjoyable. Obviously, when you are winning, you create a different mood. Then the pressure once you win is to win again, the pressure is always going to exist, I prefer that.

It’s not time to hide, it’s time to put your face and your body on the line and at the moment, I’m sorry, but we have to take the bullets. We’re not winning football matches and you have to put your chest out [and say], ‘Hit me’ because you have the right to hit me, because I’m not winning. What else can I do? Put my head down, work harder and try to do things better and improve. It’s how we have to approach this in my opinion.

Mikel Arteta on feeling under pressure

Tomorrow is a chance to get points at home — even one point — and feel a slight step forward. With the onslaught of matches in December just beginning, each loss not only continues the run of poor results, but feels like it could be the point in which we simply see Arsenal’s cash in on the year.

Daunting times and it’s hard to see where the respite comes from. 90 more minutes of Arsenal!

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