After nearly two months of frustrating Premier League results, an infuriating match against a Burnley side that Arsenal should be winning, and a variety of lineup combinations — Arsenal are running out of solutions, and finding where the respite comes from in this run is a daunting challenge.
Arteta and Arsenal have a huge challenge on their hands when it comes to slowing down a Southampton Saints side that has 7 wins and 2 draws from the their first 12 matches.
One aspect of this match that guarantees intrigue is the fact that Arteta will be forced to change the lineup — regardless of whether or not he would have on his own.
Hector Bellerin is serving a one match suspension for accumulated yellow cards, and Xhaka is serving the first of his three game ban for choking Burnley’s McNeil in Arsenal’s last match. Additionally, Pepe has completed his suspension for head butting Leeds United’s Alioski.
With these omissions, inclusions, and the poor performances of a few other Arsenal players, we could be in for a different lineup. Arteta has to find a way to strike a balance between hardworking youth with a bit of fight, and some veteran experience or star power. It’s a balance he has struggled to find this season, although it would seem that may be because he is hardly trying. Arteta has heavily favored the aging veterans with his selections, but that faith has not been repaid. How will he respond now?
Before I give my predicted lineup, let’s look at team news.
Suspension. Serving one-match suspension for receiving fifth yellow card.
Head. David sustained a deep laceration to the head during Wolves (h) on November 29. Due to the significant impact David has continued to be closely monitored for a concussion and has followed all protocols. David is now back in full training and his fitness will continue to be assessed ahead of Wednesday’s match.
Left knee. Sustained injury during training on June 21. Gabi is now back in full training.
Left thigh. Sustained a strain to the left thigh during Tottenham Hotspur (a) on December 6. Thomas will be unavailable for forthcoming matches and is working hard with our medical team in order to return to training as soon as possible.
Available for selection after completing three-match Premier League suspension.
Suspension. Serving the first of a three-match suspension. Will be unavailable for Southampton (h), Everton (a) and Manchester City (h – Carabao Cup QF).
With Partey out, it feels like Arsenal need to return to the 3-4-3 formation. I know many fans dislike it, feel it’s boring and not very expansive, but I will keep driving this point home: It wasn’t until Partey’s singing that Arteta or Arsenal dared to believe a four-back system was possible after the end of last season. Why, when Partey is out, would you force yourself to play a system that wouldn’t work before?
With that said, here is what I believe Arteta will select, and many will be upset with it. It’s not that different from the side that played against Burnley.
That may be the formation, but in practice, I believe it will look a little more like this with AMN and Saka’s positioning varying depending on possession and where on the pitch the ball is located.
Let’s talk through this.
Leno in net. A back three of Tierney, Gabriel, and Luiz. Tierney and Gabriel should be pretty obvious, but Luiz less so. Same as last weekend, this could just as easily be Holding tomorrow. However, with Southampton’s press, having players that are decent on the ball in back is a help, as well as, Luiz’s demonstrated ability to hit the long ball. He may be error prone and not a fan favorite, but frankly I am waiting for Arteta to put him back in. Not my favorite by any means, but Arteta is a fan. Not to mention, selecting him may help put to bed some suggestions of ill-will between Luiz and Mikel.
With Bellerin and Xhaka out, I suspect two changes in the midfield. I selected Saka, Elneny, Ceballos, and Maitland-Niles. Oddly enough, when it comes to a two-man pivot, Arsenal’s options feel limited without Xhaka or Partey. Ceballos came into the match against Burnley, so it feels like he is the most likely to get the call.
Outside of them we have Saka and Maitland-Niles. Some may consider an Elneny-AMN pivot with Soares wide right, but that pivot feels overkill on legs while underselling the value of someone to offer passing range. This is why, with Bellerin out, I foresee something that places AMN back at right wingback.
Upfront is a bit more interesting these days. No one is having success at the Premier League level, so it makes selection difficult. Personally, I would be shocked and appalled not to see Pepe selected, yet when it comes to Arsenal’s backing of the Willian transfer, nothing should surprise me. Regardless of me leaving out Willian, and Edu’s recent comments about the Brazilian, Mikel has to go with Pepe on the left.
Without a true attacking midfielder behind the striker, it feels like playing Aubameyang down the middle would be a waste. Arsenal want him spending as much of the match as possible off the shoulder of opposition defenders’ shoulders. Because there is no inherent attacking midfielder, the striker will be tasked with filling in for some of those duties. It is because of this that I have reverted back to Lacazette at striker and Aubameyang out left.
However, if you look at my second image, it shows you I think that frontline would work in action. Lacazette dropping deeper, wingers squeezing in, and a wingback like Saka getting forward to join the attack, almost as a left winger. This would allow Maitland-Niles to pick and choose when he overlaps to the right side of Pepe or when he tucks in centrally to join the midfield.
I know many will be calling for Balogun’s involvement, and I too believe the kid deserves the opportunity to be involved on the bench at the very least. While I would love to place him in this lineup, I’ll let Arteta show real signs of consideration before I jump to put him in the starting striker role.
I won’t deny it’s not going to be a fan favorite, but which of Arteta’s lineups have pleased the fans? Maybe Leeds United where we got most of what fans wanted to see and were beat for most the game in every way but the scoreboard. However, I can’t help but believe some way, some how, Arteta will get Willian involved much to my frustrations.
We will have to see!
I would love to give a great prediction and make it a happy one, but little in the last two months suggests that is possible. The likelihood of Arsenal failing to succeed for two month and then strolling through a match seems incredibly low. If Arsenal are going to get anything from this, they are going to have to claw, scratch, etch, and gut their way through 90 minutes. Can they do it at home?
If they can settle on the ball, remain deterred by the press and unfettered in their attacking fluidity just enough, they could find themselves with chances to score against a side that has conceded 17 goals in 12 matches. With that said, Arsenal will need to finish. For a fun, ugly stat, Arsenal have actually had a higher xG than Southampton of late, but only managed to score 2 goals (Man U and Wolves). That lack of efficiency needs to change.
Prediction 1-1 draw.