Fearless Southampton can compound Arsenal’s anarchy on the road


You would have to go a fair way back to find out when Arsenal were last underdogs against Southampton.

But this upcoming Thursday, they are. Successive defeats this week has put aside any pipe dream aspirations of Arsenal harbouring a Champions League place, instead now finding themselves entrenched in mid-table obscurity. In fact, they are closer to 18th place Bournemouth than they are to Leicester in third.

Arsenal are yet to reboot the deep-rooted culture issues that crept in towards the back-end of Arsene Wenger’s reign. Gone are the days of the extroverted on-pitch powerhouses of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell. Now, Arsenal resemble a team stuck in the middle of nowhere, content to plateau along and accept mediocrity.

There is no tangible identity to their play and are often spineless when the going gets tough. At least under Wenger, there was a saving grace indebted to their technical ability, providing an attractive brand of football and a daring panache for supporters. They remained entertaining, albeit not too successful at plastering up their glaring frailties.

Despite an unbeaten start to the year pre-lockdown, you always got the feeling Arsenal were just one bad result away from another crisis. Last Wednesday, they suffered their seventh successive defeat to Manchester City, swatted away in such a cold and clinical fashion that meant you were almost compelled to feel sympathetic.

Just when you thought the side couldn’t show any more lack of resolve or gutlessness, they truly reached their nadir at the Amex. Brighton came back from a goal down to steal a 2-1 victory at the death, a 95th minute winner from Neal Maupay sealing Brighton’s first win in 2020 and in the process, meaning they had completed the double over Arsenal this season.

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They now travel further south to St Mary’s for their third straight away game. For Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men, there appears to be a perfect storm brewing. The Gunners have only won once at the stadium since 2003, losing three and drawing four.

The reverse fixture back in November was a turning point for Southampton and Hasenhuttl. It was the first game in which the Austrian used his favoured 4-2-2-2 system from his time at RB Leipzig, ditching the often fallible 5-3-2.

It was just weeks after that 9-0 loss to Leicester – yes I’ll bring that up once more – yet Saints were fearless in their approach at the Emirates, perhaps giving a significant indication as to how far Arsenal have fallen from the destructive, initmidating machine that would win games by just standing in the Highbury tunnel.

If it wasn’t for Alexandre Lacazette’s 96th minute equaliser seconds from time to save Gunner blushes, Southampton would have came away from North London fully deserving of three points. Anyone watching observed a formerly beleaguered Saints side almost in total hegemony throughout the match, somehow making a club the stature of Arsenal look incomprehensibly inferior. Best exemplified by how tormented his side had been, the manner of which Lacazette subduedly celebrated his goal reflected the striking comparisons between the two that day.

To the untrained eye or from the outside looking in, Southampton appear to have nothing to play for in these next eight games. They aren’t going to go down and there is barely any reward worth warranting an end-of-season push. Instead, they should be expected to settle in within the middle of the pack, thereby lacking the necessary application or motivation.

But given their outrageously enthused performance against Norwich last time out, there is ample reason to suggest otherwise. Displaying a vitality that made the 100 day lay-off look like it had never even happened, Southampton were steadfast in delivering their combative, hostile methodology of football all over the pitch.

When Norwich were running on fumes, Saints were growing into this juggernaut of energy, ceaseless and unforgiving with their press. In truth, despite being allowed five subs per the FA’s new, temporary stipulations, the side would have been quite comfortable in making none at all.

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This may also well be the opportune time for Hasenhuttl and his men to act on turning around their dire home form. No crowd, no tension from the stands, no pressure to deliver results during the climatic stages of the season and Danny Ings, Southampton are a dangerous proposition for any team to come up against. Win, lose or draw, after 90 minutes, opposition sides know they’ve been in a game.

On Thursday, we will see if Arsenal continue to buckle under the heavy shells of fire away from home or perform quite a dramatic U-turn. With just 14 points accrued from 15 away games, it’s reasonable to suggest the former is more probable.

Arsenal will have Mattéo Guendouzi available after the midfielder fortunately escaped a violent conduct ban after appearing to grab Brighton’s match winner Neal Maupay by the throat. Bernd Leno is awaiting results from his scan on a knee injury sustained at Brighton, while Gabriel Martinelli is likely to be out having suffered suspected cartilage damage  in Monday’s training session.

Cedric (facial injury), Lucas Torreira (ankle), Calum Chambers (knee) Pablo Mari (ankle) and Granit Xhaka (ankle) are also all ruled out.

Aside from Moussa Djenepo serving his second game of a three match ban, Southampton will have a full bill of health available for the clash. Shane Long returns after missing the Norwich game with a lower-back injury.

Southampton welcome Arsenal to St Mary’s in a 6pm (18.00 GMT) kick-off. Our reporter Jacob Tanswell will be at the game, providing all team news, updates and fall-out after the match.

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About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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