On Saturday, Southampton visit Arsenal to try and win there for the first time in the Premier League era.
That’s right, Saints haven’t won at Arsenal in the last 22 attempts in the league, drawing seven times and getting beat 15.
It’s the most on team has faced another on the road without ever winning in Premier League history.
The omens aren’t looking good, but we are hoping Nathan Reynolds of The Short Fuse, SB Nation’s Arsenal blog, can help us feel a bit better as we understand the state of play with Mikel Arteta’s side.
See what Nathan has to say about Arsenal, the manager, and his thoughts on the game on Saturday.
You can read our thoughts in return in this Q&A with The Short Fuse here.
SMM: Hello Nathan! Arsenal had a poor start to the season before an upturn in results starting in November. How would you characterise Arsenal’s season so far?
TSF: Slightly above expected. Losing to Manchester City (A), Liverpool (A), Chelsea (H) & Manchester United (A) isn’t a surprise. Even dropping the opening match at Brentford has some explanations - Friday night season opener, their supporters excited to be in the Premier League, and Arsenal wasn’t at full strength. However, that loss and the most recent one to Everton are disappointing results.
But the club put together a great run in between those sets of losses to climb from 20th to 5th. The addition of Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, and Takehiro Tomiyasu has improved the squad, and they are all still 24 or younger. The club is still an up-and-down affair, but there are signs of moving in the right direction.
SMM: Mikel Arteta was put under some considerable pressure before the Gunners moved up the table. How good a job is he doing at the Emirates, and how safe is he as Arsenal boss?
TSF: That’s a polarising question. You can easily find Arsenal fans who wanted him gone before the season, after those losses, even during the positive stretch this season, and remain in that position. I’m of a different, and perhaps more lenient mindset. This is Arteta’s first job managing a senior side and he came into a squad that was in need of a massive overhaul, something the club is still working through.
Unless Arsenal drops back into a relegation battle I doubt the club will remove Mikel this season. If he can get them back into 6th or higher I expect him to be back next season and another summer of moving 4-6 players out.
SMM: Aaron Ramsdale has been a revelation since signing for Arsenal. Just how good is he, and how do his performances compare to what you were expecting when he first signed?
TSF: He has exceeded expectations. At the time of the signing, I thought he was a good bit of business as I thought Bernd Leno would leave after this season. However, Ramsdale quickly came into the squad, improved the defense, made several saves I don’t think Leno is getting to, and has become a fan favorite. Based on what we’ve seen so far, he could be Arsenal’s keeper for the next few seasons and be an integral part in getting back into the Champions League.
SMM: Another player making the headlines is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. How have you rated his season so far as Arsenal’s main goal threat?
TSF: C-. After 29 goals two seasons ago, he regressed last year. His stats so far this season match his goal rate from the year before, but that’s largely thanks to a hat-trick in the League Cup. Like Alexandre Lacazette, I think Aubameyang’s time at the club is over. He will still have plenty of great moments over the course of the season, but this summer he will turn 33 and have just a year left on his current deal. It’s time for the club to make the switch from Aubameyang/Lacazette/Eddie Nketiah to a new senior striker/Gabriel Martinelli/Folarin Balogun.
SMM: Arsenal have lost their last two Premier League fixtures. What do you put those results, and performances, down to and how do you think Arsenal will respond?
TSF: Both of those matches have been a bit chaotic that could have gone Arsenal’s way. The Gunners have struggled on the road this season so it wasn’t overly surprising to see them have issues in front of a loud Everton crowd, despite their own issues. The defence has improved this season, but three individual errors made the difference across those two matches.
Last time Arsenal had a series of losses they responded with 10 matches unbeaten. Now back at the Emirates I think they will expect to control the match on Saturday and pick up all three points.
SMM: On paper, Arsenal’s run of fixtures over Christmas look favourable. How do you see those games going during the festive period?
TSF: The opponents get easier and four of the six matches remaining this month are at home. I’d expect 10 points from 15 in the league (Southampton, West Ham, Leeds, Norwich & Wolves) and to advance in the League Cup against Sunderland. If they manage that and avoid major injuries (which is a big if), they will enter January 1st likely in the top six and into the League Cup semi-finals. Just look away from that New Year’s Day match against Manchester City.
SMM: If you could strengthen any areas of the Arsenal squad in January, what would it be and do you have any transfer targets in mind?
TSF: Unless someone like Lacazette leaves in January I can’t see the club bringing in someone at this point. Ideally, we could swap out a forward and bring in a new one, but the ideal targets are more likely in the summer window. After that, it’s figuring out the future of this midfield. Mohamed Elneny’s contract ends this summer, Sambi is new but has potential. Thomas Partey’s performances continue to be up and down, while Granit Xhaka still divides opinion. Then there is Ainsley Maitland-Niles who really wants to prove that he is a CM and not a full-back, wing-back option. If I can only get one in January I’d take a new CM with the hope that Aubameyang and Lacazette do enough for the remainder of this season.
SMM: Do you think Arsenal will spend money in the January transfer window?
TSF: Only if they can get someone that fits into the long-term plans and happens to be available at a reasonable price this winter. Otherwise, they wait to spend big in the summer and only react in the winter if certain senior players make early exits.
SMM: How do you see Arsenal lining up against Southampton and in what formation?
TSF: At home, I’d expect to see the 4-2-3-1 once again. The squad needs to keep rotating to not burn out the defense and to ignite the attack. Pending any injury setbacks at this moment I’ll go with Ramsdale / Tavares-Mari-Holding-Chambers / Sambi-Maitland-Niles / Saka-Smith Rowe-Pepe / Aubameyang.
Although I’m probably willing to rotate more than Mikel Arteta actually will.
SMM: What is your prediction for the game?
TSF: 2-1 to Arsenal. If the backline rotates as much as I expect then they surely give up a goal being as rusty as Pablo Mari and Rob Holding will be. However, if Emile Smith Rowe is back in the starting XI and Pepe can finally get a start I’d back them to help kickstart the attack and do enough to help the Gunners start a new winning run.
We’d like to thank Nathan and The Short Fuse for their time.