Home form key to Gunners rebuild
Arsenal’s start to the season has been in three distinct parts so far. A terrible start saw calls for manager Mikel Arteta to be sacked, before a 10 game unbeaten run had the same man hailed as the man to lead Arsenal into a brighter future.
Part three has seen Arteta’s side lose three of their last four games, all away from home, to Liverpool, Manchester United and, on Monday, Everton. The only respite for the Spaniard came in the form of a 2-0 win over Newcastle at the Emirates.
In fact, home form has been another feature of the season. After a 2-0 loss to Chelsea in their first home game of the season Arsenal are unbeaten, winning six of their seven games in North London.
Currently sitting at @ 1.84/5 to win on Saturday, the hosts will be looking to continue their dominance in this fixture. Arsenal have never lost a Premier League home game against Southampton (22 matches), and with a potentially tricky Christmas period approaching Arteta will be extra keen to get a win and quiet any dissenting voices.
The biggest concern for Arteta in recent weeks has been the poor form of his senior players. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed from about a yard out against Newcastle and was benched for the Everton game following a poor display at Old Trafford while his understudy, Alexandre Lacazette has scored just once this season.
Similarly Thomas Partey has, arguably, failed to have the impact in midfield his manager would have hoped for while Granit Xhaka was recovering from injury. Xhaka, who returned on Monday, isn’t always someone to be relied on either which is why, increasingly, Arsenal’s young manager is turning to the more youthful elements of his squad for leadership.
The attacking quartert of Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli are all under 23 and have been responsible for seven of the eight goals Arsenal have scored in their last six games, centre-back Gabriel providing the other, as Arsenal’s senior pros have struggled.
With Aubameyang and Lacazette struggling for goals there is a chance that Arteta may start all four of his youngsters on Saturday although I expect Arsenal’s captain to return to the starting XI in place of either Martinelli or Smith-Rowe, who is battling a groin problem, as Arsenal look to take advantage of a somewhat shorthanded Southampton.
Following injuries to both Fraser Forster and Alex McCarthy, Saints announced that they had signed Willy Caballero this week on a short term deal and the form Chelsea and Manchester City man will likely make his debut at the Emirates. Even before the injuries Southampton have had problems between the sticks, failing to keep a clean sheet in any of their last four games.
Caballero is certainly more experienced than Harry Lewis, who was set to make his debut, but he will have to be at his best to cope with Arsenal’s attacking youngsters of Odegaard (12/5 to score anytime), Saka (10/3), Martinelli (17/10) and Smith-Rowe (11/4). Odegaard has scored in his last two games but it is Smith-Rowe, who is Arsenal’s leading Premier League goal scorer, or Martinelli who offer the best value depending on which of the two gets the nod to start.
Organised defences will reduce goal scoring chances
While on paper, Arsenal have a young attacking side a lot of their games, particularly against sides from the bottom half follow similar patterns. A lot of possession while they struggle to break down an organised defence. Southampton may have failed to keep their opponents out in recent weeks but their early season performances show they are nothing if not organised.
Tino Livramento has caught the eye as an attacking asset from fullback but he is equally adept defensively, his battle with Bukayo Saka and either Kieran Tierney or Nuno Tavares down the Arsenal left will be key at the weekend. Alongside Livramento is Mohammed Salisu who has been a mainstay in the Southampton defence since his debut back in February, and has formed a solid partnership with Jan Bednarek, while Kyle Walker-Peters fills in at left back.
The ex-Spurs man probably isn’t expecting a warm welcome in North London but he’ll certainly be up to the test. Hassenhuttl has shown he often favours industry over everything and his midfield pair of James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu are as hardworking as they come. Look for the visitors to concede possession and drop deep against a side who’s fans can certainly be described as restless when things aren’t going well.
While Arsenal are favourites, you’d expect it to be a tough game a Bet Builder double of Arsenal to win and Under 2.5 Goals in the game is well priced at 3.65.