The International break is over, which means a return for Premier League action, and with it, a return of the eternal disappointment that is Arsenal Football Club. Having not won a league game since scraping past Bournemouth at the beginning of October, Unai Emery’s Arsenal have stuttered from one international break to another. Indeed, since the previous break, the club have won just once, and have lost three times, increasing the pressure on the Spanish head coach.
Theoretically then, a home game against a side 19th in the league, in the form of Southampton, should be the perfect opportunity to return to some sort of form and re-ignite any top-four hopes. Southampton Boss Ralph Hausenhattl is under increasing pressure as poor results have left the south-coast side wallowing in the relegation zone, having won just two games so far and collecting 8 points from a possible 36.
He will, however, have fond memories of facing Unai Emery’s side, as it was in his first home game in charge that he beat the Gunners, thus ending their 22-match unbeaten run. With the Gunners’ poor form, he will surely be confident that he can repeat this feat and that his side can lift themselves out of the relegation zone.
It would not be Arsenal football club if they boasted a clean bill of health. However, of the senior side, only Dani Ceballos is unavailable for Saturday’s clash. The Spaniard sustained a hamstring injury during Arsenal’s draw with Vitoria before the international break, and is yet to fully recover. Equally, Granit Xhaka will likely remain in the cold after being unfairly stripped of the captaincy, further limiting Arsenal’s midfield options.
It will be interesting to see whether Emery has settled on a back three or a back four, having experimented with both so far this season. He may be able to field his first-choice fullbacks together in the league for the first time, despite Kieran Tierney’s withdrawal from the Scotland squad.
Playing at the Emirates, Arsenal are more likely to line up with a back four, ideally with Lucas Torreira returning to his favoured position in front of the defence. The use of the Uruguayan as a box-to-box midfielder has clearly been a failed experiment, and in the absence of Granit Xhaka, he is the most suited player for that position.
Looking higher up the pitch, and at home to a side in the relegation zone, you would hope that Emery names a dynamic attacking force which can have the game won in the first half, thus avoiding repeats of embarrassing draws such as those to Watford and Crystal Palace. Mesut Ozil has returned from the cold in recent games, and Arsenal fans must surely be hoping that he retains his position, especially in light of his lack of international commitments.
I would love to see Emery name the German talisman behind Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a return to the 4-2-3-1 formation which saw the club experience some success last season. If this front four were to line up against the Saints, a side who shipped nine against Leicester, I can see the Gunners condemning the South-Coast outfit to another drubbing.
Patience with Unai Emery amongst Arsenal fans is short, and a string of poor results have seen increasing clamour for his head. However, the Arsenal hierarchy have re-iterated their support for the Spaniard publicly and it appears that he is safe in his role at least until something drastically changes. Southampton’s visit, therefore, offers a golden opportunity for him to begin to prove his doubters wrong and get Arsenal’s season back on track.
Lose, and things could turn ugly with the fans, especially given that the club’s biggest rivals have sacked a manager with a better record than Emery. If there was any chance of luring Mauricio Pochettino to the Emirates, Arsenal’s leaders should pull out all of the stops. In absence of this, however, fans must back Emery.
Score prediction: Arsenal 4-1 Southampton