Match day. The last time we played Southampton, there’s no talk about the lack of trophy (pre season doesn’t count). That was in 2005 and we have not won any trophy ever since. Not that it’s relevant but still a fact nonetheless. The Southampton I watched last time had Matthew Le Tissier and Francis Benali in them. The FA Cup final settled by Robert Pires is one of those matches that immediately jumps to mind. So is that last minute leveller from the striker now in Manchester. Lest we all forgot, a 6-1 win over them at Highbury that also included 3 Pires goals and 3 from a player in Stoke was what kick-started our Invincible run.
During these non meeting years, we’ve taken two of their promising players. It’s not only us who has done that because Southampton created a very good academy and policy to rely on them to come back up to the Premier League. Two successive promotions is not something to be laughed at. That said, generally the struggle comes in the third year and the two leagues higher than where they started. We first took a wide-eyed Theo Walcott from them in 2006 before prying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain away from them last season. It might be different from which side of the camp you’re standing from but I’d say that those are very decent acquisitions.
Of the two, only one is expected to feature today. Though the other (Walcott) is seen in the training pictures. AOC has been asked by Arsene Wenger to not let the occasion get to him and treat it like any other game. Former players only ever seemed to do well against us but rarely for us against their former clubs. Though in the Wenger years, we hardly ever play those clubs because he picked players from obscurity. There’s no need for him to particularly show himself to be the star on the pitch. Subconsciously, he might want to prove that he has improved since he left them. Not as an act of arrogance but the competitive side of a player.
AOC’s mental state going into this game would not be the only thing on Wenger’s mind. He also has to make the decision on who to put in goal. Vito Mannone has played the last 2 games because the other 2 weren’t available but now Wojciech Szczesny has come back. There’s no question that the latter is the undisputed number 1 at the start of the season. However, Mannone has been very steady in those 2 games and did his part in helping us maintain the clean sheet.
Dropping him for today’s game would be a tad harsh but that’s the way the game goes. Szczesny will be the choice for me. The sooner he gets back into the groove of things the better. While that decision may not sit too well with Mannone given how he has done, 2 games is still too little to make a strong case not to reinstate Szczesny. With the presence of Ricky Lambert, Soton might be encourage to mix their play and deliver some crosses into the box. While Mannone has not drop a clanger in those situations, especially against Stoke, Szczesny is still the one best place to deal with those situations.
Another player whom I can see coming in is Laurent Koscielny. Unlucky to pick up an injury before the start of the season, his season only really begins now. Had he not been injured, I’m sure he would have played in all 3 games now. However, in his stead, Per Mertesacker just like Mannone has done brilliantly. That said, the disparity between the centre back duo is perhaps closer than between the keepers. I would have preferred Thomas Vermaelen to be the one resting his feet after consecutive full games for his country but as captain, that just doesn’t happen with Arsenal.
All eyes today will be on Olivier Giroud. His predecessors and all of them illustrious names, have opened their accounts against Southampton. There is a lot of pressure on his shoulder to deliver. It is an unfair but inevitable that he gets compared to the striker in Manchester. He has missed about a chance per game so far and it’s evident that Giroud is also putting some pressure on himself to score. It might not come today but that doesn’t immediately mean we can write him off. As long as he win his duels and continue with his impressive off the ball movement, we can sure that he’s contributing to the team.
One player who could help ease the pressure for Giroud is Santi Cazorla. The little Spaniard (nice to be using such descriptive words again) has been buzzing since the start of the season. He has incorporated himself to our style of play the fastest and already looks the most comfortable of the three new signings. One thing that we’ve seen from the first 3 games, is how Cazorla is always looking to thread the ball through. If anyone’s to create an opening for Giroud, it could be this Spaniard. Maybe AOC or one of the full backs can provide the crosses for Giroud should the former plan not work out as accordingly.
Will our defence hold out for another game? Will Giroud finally score for us? Can we keep up with our rise up the table? Will AOC freeze against his former team? All will be revealed later today. It is 7 games on the trot before the next international break. Time to build up a little bit of steam and momentum. Enjoy the match wherever you’re watching.
Up The Arsenal!!!