So here’s the fact: in Arsenal’s defence, Rob Holding is out; Shkodran Mustafi is out, Sokratis Papastathopoulos is suspended, Dinos Mavroapnos is out. Three out of the four defenders who have featured heavily at the heart of the Arsenal defence.
In the face of a really threatening opponent, Unai Emery would probably be pulling his hair out, cursing in broken English. However, it’s only Southampton, 19th in the table, joint-second worst attack in the Premier League with only 13 goals scored in their last 16 matches; a perfect game to ease Laurent Koscielny back into the side as the Gunners head into a testy and packed schedule in the festive season.
Koscielny made his first appearance in months in the Europa League on Thursday against Qarabag, after his absence since May due to an achilles injury. Emery is likely to pair the French defender with Nacho Monreal, the left back who is also just returning from the sidelines.
Emery’s other options include veteran right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner and Carl Jenkinson, who has not made an appearance since November 2016. Not the most ideal bunch, especially if the boss persists with three centre-backs.
With a new face in charge at St Mary’s, we can’t be certain of what to expect from Southampton. Despite losing his first game to Cardiff City due to a disappointing error by Jannik Vestergaard, the energetic Ralph Hassenhutl could make Southampton more difficult to beat as he infuses his ideas into the team.
Southampton had more possession and shots compared to Cardiff City but the quality of their shots was worse. Despite playing a lesser quality opponent when compared to facing Tottenham, the expected goals (xG) of the Saints dropped.
The Gooners will welcome the return of Mesut Ozil to the side after they struggled to break down Huddersfield last week. It took Lucas Torreira’s acrobatic finish in the 86th minute to break the deadlock against the resolute Terriers.
Emery’s reaction to a goalless first half was to bring on Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi to get more creativity into the side, however, they were only able to contribute a key pass each for the remainder of the game.
Ozil’s return after a back injury improves the creative options against a Southampton side who are hoping to end their longest winless run since 1989. The German marked his return to the side in the Europa League with an assist for Alexander Lacazette’s goal.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has shown he is human after all by deigning to miss shots and going two games without a goal. However, the Gabonese could start a new goal-scoring glut with Ozil in the side and Lacazette on hand to pair with him in attack. After all, Southampton have the joint-third worst defence in the League conceding 30 goals in 16 games.