It's that time of the year again to face a nervy trip to the home of Arsenal, Emirates Stadium.
We held out for a gutsy 0-0 draw last time around, with Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster playing a blinder shortly after returning from his devastating knee injury.
Read our response to their questions here.
St. Mary’s Musings: What were your expectations before the season started and how are Arsenal looking in comparison just three games in?
The Short Fuse: Honestly, I don't go into an Arsenal season with expectations, generally. I know that's hard to believe, but we're talking about a team who always finishes in the top four, but never really threatens for a championship. Last season, the window for winning the title couldn't have been open much wider, and Arsenal managed to hit the wall instead of flying out that window, so. I guess if I had to answer, I'd say my expectations, such as they are, are the same as ever - maintaining that Top Club Club status and hopefully pushing forward that last little bit to become title challengers in April, not just in January.
How are they looking? The jury's still out, to be honest. The first game against Liverpool was a dumpster fire, but it was also a lineup that won't play together much all season because all of Arsenal's Euro and Copa America participants were rested except Alexis Sanchez. The second game was normal-ish, and the first half two weeks ago against Watford is what I want to see a whole lot more of.
SMM: Were you happy with Arsenal's transfer dealings in the summer?
TSF: Deliriously. I'm not one who thinks Arsene should buy for the sake of it, as a lot of the more, shall we say, vocal parts of the Arsenal fanbase tends to be, but after last summer's Petr-Cech-And-Nothing-Else-Fest, there were some definite needs to be addressed this summer. Happily, Arsene addressed all of them - quality CDM (Granit Xhaka), defensive help (Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding), striker to be a partner to Giroud (Lucas Perez). And he also bought Japanese youngster Takuma Asano for...reasons.
I'd be hard pressed to find another team that filled 100% of their needs this summer, but for once Arsenal are that team, and I couldn't be happier. Mustafi and Perez, of course, were late additions, so I'm not sure how much time they'll see this weekend, but they'll both be very valuable additions to an already strong squad.
SMM: What is the common feeling among Arsenal fans in regard to Arsene Wenger?
TSF: I forget - does this blog have a word limit? Because I could go on about this for days.
There are actually two common feelings. If you're one who believes that transfer spending is everything, you've been team #WENGEROUT for several years now, and nothing Arsenal did this summer will change that (there are people who believe that Mustafi was a "panic buy", since the deal was closed right before the deadline, despite the fact that Arsene has been courting him since January). If you're one who believes that building a financially sustainable club that is always good but not quite good enough is more important than splashy summer headlines, though, you're #WENGERIN and nothing will shake that.
SMM: Do you think Wenger will stay beyond the summer?
TSF: That's the bazilliion dollar question, isn't it? Wenger and Arsenal are always very tight lipped about his future, and this year is no different. Despite having been an ardent Wenger backer forever, and particularly in the last five years, I have myself reluctantly come to the conclusion that I'd like him to go this summer. Not because of his transfer dealings, at all; but mostly because his style of play, a style that he brought to England and did better than anyone for at least a decade, has been caught up with and surpassed, and his rigidity about that style of play - he changes for no one - is becoming a detriment.
He has no Plan B, he has several blind spots when it comes to questionably-skilled players, and he never, ever changes his substitution patterns unless forced to by injury. He's visionary but inflexible, and that doesn't work so well in the modern game, so I do hope that he steps aside this summer, gets all the accolades he rightly deserves (I mean, if Emirates Stadium isn't renamed the Wenger Ground when he goes, there is no justice), and allows a new manager to take Arsenal forward.
SMM: How are the former Saints boys getting on at Arsenal?
TSF: Mixed bag, really. Theo Walcott, the one we'd all expected to be the superstar, just hasn't been - to be fair, he's been hurt a bit, but even when healthy he just hasn't put it together as much as we would like to see. Tremendously likeable player, very Arsenal, but inconsistent enough that if he's sold, I'm not sure anyone at Arsenal will be sad for long. I don't wish him ill, at all; I just see a lot of unfulfilled potential there.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has done well enough to show us he's capable, but hasn't been consistent at all. I'm hoping this will be a breakout year for him, now that he has a more talented midfield around him.
Calum Chambers is....Calum Chambers. He's been loaned out to Middlesbrough this year to get some regular playing time, because he's fallen behind the defensive pecking order of Koscielny, Elneny, Mustafi, and Holding; the fact that he's fallen down to fifth choice behind two guys that were bought two weeks ago tells you all you need to know about Chambers at this point. Again, we had high hopes; he just couldn't grab his chance when it came last year.
SMM: If you could sign any Saints player, who would it be and why?
TSF: Is it too much of a pander to say Matt Le Tissier, who to this day is one of my favorite all time players? It is? OK, then. My serious answer: Oriol Romeu, although now that Arsenal have Granit Xhaka, my desire for a really good DM has been sated. But I'm one who, since I started watching soccer seriously in the late 1980's, has always prized a good defense, and a good DM is one of the most fun things to watch in the game, in my opinion.
SMM: If you could sell any player from Arsenal's regular starting XI, who would it be and why?
TSF: There's no thought involved in this question at all, and you should see the excited look on my face as I read it. There's only one answer to this question, and it's Francis Coquelin. He's a DM by name only - he had one good season with Arsenal and has spent the rest of his career at the club clogging up the midfield, committing clumsy fouls that aren't even tactical, and displaying a complete and total lack of ability to pass the ball a distance greater than three yards and a direction other than sideways. Arsenal are a different team when he plays, and not for the better - and Coquelin has been one of Arsene Wenger's aforementioned blind spots for at least a season now.
Fortunately, with Granit Xhaka around, Coquelin's utility is limited - he'll probably stay on the roster as a Cup player and a spot starter, but by and large I'd be thrilled if he were gone tomorrow.
SMM: What Arsenal player should us Saints fans be wary of on Saturday?
TSF: Pick your midfield poison - if you ignore Mesut Özil, he'll pass you to death and it will lead to goals, but if you focus on him, you ignore Alexis Sanchez, who will run circles around you, pass you to death, then score on you, all before you know what happened to you.
SMM: Finally, what is your prediction for Saturday?
TSF: I am notoriously bad at these, and this game will be tricky because Arsenal are integrating new players and bringing others back from extended rest. I think it'll be closer than I personally would like it to be...I'm going to say 3-1 Arsenal, but that third goal will come in the 93rd minute after Arsenal sit nervously on a 2-1 lead for like an hour, so the score will be a bit deceptive.
We would like to thank Paul for his time in answering these questions for us.