Arsenal and Southampton on a Saturday Premier League Grind

By  //  December 3, 2019

Arsenal will aim to put a miserable spell of form behind them when they host Southampton for a crunch Premier League game on Saturday.

Arsenal will aim to put a miserable spell of form behind them when they host Southampton for a crunch Premier League game on Saturday.

The Gunners have taken just two points from their last four games and manager Unai Emery is under intense pressure from disgruntled fans.

The club apparently wants to give the Spaniard until the end of the season to turn the situation around, but defeat to the struggling Saints could lead to some seriously itchy trigger fingers in the Arsenal boardroom.

Online betting sites are offering short odds on Emery becoming the next Premier League manager to leave his post. Many bookies have him neck and neck with Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl in the sack race, which should alarm the Spaniard when you consider just how bad the situation at St Mary’s is.

The Saints have lost their last three games – including a record-breaking 9-0 home defeat against Leicester – and they are 19th in the table, with just eight points from 12 games so far.

Things are looking distinctly bleak for Southampton and a heavy defeat against Arsenal could be the final nail in the coffin for Hasenhuttl.

Whether the Gunners are capable of delivering it is another matter entirely. They lost 2-0 away at Leicester before the international break, following back-to-back draws with Crystal Palace and Wolves and a dismal defeat away at newly-promoted Sheff Utd.

Supporters are calling on the board to sack Emery after railing against his negative tactics, controversial team selections and poor communication skills.

Statistics show that Arsenal have fared worse during his first 50 Premier League games in charge than they did during Arsene Wenger’s last 50.

That looks bad when you consider how painful the situation became under Wenger, as the Frenchman was pushed out of the club after huge fan protests.

The Gunners have scored fewer goals, won fewer games, accrued few points and conceded more goals under Emery than they did in the last 50 matches of Wenger’s reign, and they appear to be going backwards.

Yet Emery retains the confidence of the board for now and he has a golden opportunity to repay that faith on Saturday. Southampton are there for the taking after enduring a miserable campaign thus far.

They lack the star quality they boasted a few years ago, and they do not look particularly strong in the tackle or resolute at the back, so Arsenal really should steamroll them at The Emirates. 

Emery has several big decisions to make when it comes to his team selection. The most obvious issue is in midfield. Granit Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy after his bust-up with fans during the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.

He has not featured in the last four games and he may never play for the club again, but Emery may yet decide to reinstate him after Xhaka captained Switzerland to consecutive victories during the break.

The Gunners looked poor in midfield against Leicester, when Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira were thoroughly outclassed by Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans, but Emery may have to persist with that duo and hope they improve.

Dani Ceballos offers another option, but he is yet to be given a consistent spell in the team, while Joe Willock appears to have fallen out of favour.

Emery caved into pressure from fans to reinstate Mesut Ozil before the break, but it is unclear if he will feature in such an important game.

The Spaniard may be tempted to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe as an attacking triumvirate, but that would require three solid midfielders behind them. 

Arsenal also has defensive issues, and Emery switched to a back-three against Leicester in a bid to shore things up. The decision backfired as the Gunners were limp in attack and still conceded twice, so it would not be surprising to see the Spaniard revert to a back-four against Southampton.

Kieran Tierney looks a more solid option than Sead Kolasinac on the left, Hector Bellerin should now establish himself as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back, and Emery might consider playing Rob Holding ahead of the increasingly hapless Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Mainly they just need to display more ambition going forwards and provide Aubameyang with better service. If they can do that, Emery might just keep his job for a while longer.