Southampton is without a Premier League win over Arsenal in their last six attempts, picking up just one point in that stretch, which is something they look to fix when the Gunners visit St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday.
Both Saints and Arsenal are looking to quell late-season blips with much still at stake as the season approaches its climax.
Arsenal have suffered back-to-back defeats and — much like Chelsea who stuffed six past our beloved Saints last Saturday — are in need of a massive result as they chase Champions League football next season.
Southampton’s last league win over Arsenal came at St Mary’s back in 2018, when Danny Ings was at the double and Charlie Austin netted the winner. A total overhaul since then we are hoping Nathan Reynolds of The Short Fuse, SB Nation’s Arsenal blog, can give us some insight on the Gunners.
See what Nathan has to say about Arsenal’s European hopes, Arteta’s standing at the club, and his thoughts on the game on Saturday.
Our form has been bleak of late and you can catch our thoughts with The Short Fuse here.
SMM: Mikel Arteta went from being on the hot seat to having Arsenal fighting for a spot in the Champions League. What has helped him regain the faith in fans who had thought otherwise?
TSF: The trusted process, ha. When Arteta took over everyone knew that the squad needed a lot of work that would take multiple windows. He and Edu have slowly moved on from older players and those who were not part of the long term plan. I fully expect that to continue this summer with 5-6 exits and 4-6 new players either as transfers or U23 promotions (i.e. Charlie Patino). Couple that with their transfer decisions paying off – Martin Odegaard, Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Takehiro Tomiyasu, etc. and the positive results and it’s easy for fans to get back on board. This youth movement at Arsenal has seen the crowd re-energized at the Emirates.
SMM: In a similar situation to our first meeting, Arsenal are coming in having lost their last two Premier League games. What do you put those results and performances down to and how do you think Arsenal will respond?
TSF: The Palace result really hurt. They went into that match having won five in a row on the road and were just played off the pitch. I think the stunning nature of that defeat plus injuries to Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey, and Takehiro Tomiyasu have Arsenal on the backfoot. They know that they’ve blown control over fourth place, and to their main rivals, so I expect a focused side heading to Southampton this weekend. It’s three points or their chances at the Champions League are most likely gone.
SMM: Similarly, with eight matches remaining, including a game in hand on rivals Tottenham, how much pressure is there on Arsenal to lock up a place in next season’s Champions League? Would finishing outside the top 4 be considered a disappointment?
TSF: At the start of the season there was little pressure. The last two years Arsenal finished 8th, so the goal for this year was continuing to improve the squad and get closer to the top four. Perhaps a 6th place finish would have seemed reasonable. The fact that they had control over 4th and were seen as potential contenders for 3rd two matches ago is a testament to Mikel Arteta and the terrific season Arsenal have had, even if the last two games were disappointing. If they fail to get 4th now, having been so close, it will hurt, but if they do finish out of the top four I believe fans will see the overall progress over things settle down in the summer.
SMM: Heading into next season, what is an area that needs to be addressed in the transfer window for Arteta to continue to build a side that follows his identity as a manager?
TSF: Forward is the top priority. Aubameyang is gone and Lacazette and Nketiah both are out of contract this summer. That leaves Arsenal with either Martinelli up top or Folarin Balogun who is currently on loan at Middlesbrough. Ideally the Gunners sign two new forwards, but there is a chance they sign one, bring Balogun back in and give Lacazette a one year deal.
Beyond that Arsenal would like to get a new right-back to replace Cedric and another central midfielder. Also I’d expect a lot of exits as they have a lot of senior players out on loan - Lucas Torreira, Hector Bellerin, Matteo Guendouzi, Pablo Mari, Ainsley Maitland-Niles & Konstantinos Mavropanos. Plus they need to make a decision on William Saliba & Reiss Nelson, either back as first team players or sell and move on.
SMM: A lot was made of Martin Odegaard as a teenager. How has he progressed at Arsenal and is he showing signs of talent that had him touted as a wunderkind?
TSF: Over the past few months we’ve seen the best of Odegaard at Arsenal and I believe he still has another level to reach. Like so many players, he needs to not only be in a system that fits him, but players around him that suit his abilities and a manager that believes in him. He is the #10 Arsenal have lacked since Mesut Ozil fell out with Arteta. Odegaard is a Champions League level player and Arsenal were fortunate to get him from Real Madrid for only $38 million.
SMM: Who has been the surprise player of the season for Arsenal? Has anyone underperformed to what was expected?
TSF: I think I’d give surprise player of the season to Aaron Ramsdale. He has far surpassed expectations when he was signed over the summer and quickly became a fan favorite. I could see him as a future club captain and long term keeper for Arsenal. Second on that list would be Tomiyasu at right-back. Most had never heard of him when Arsenal made the announcement and, when fit, has been a terrific addition to the defense.
Underperformed is probably Lacazette. With Aubameyang gone, Arsenal need Alexandre to be the primary goal scorer. And while he has other aspects to his game that help the side, he has scored just once in his last 11 league matches.
SMM: Who is an Arsenal player that Saints should be worried about on Saturday?
TSF: Odegaard to open up their defense with his vision and Martinelli to punish the backline with his speed and intelligent runs, whether that’s as the #9 or playing on the left wing.
SMM: Southampton had made a decent start to the match before some smart one-touch passing shredded our defence, and Arsenal eventually ran out 3-0 winners back in December. What do you feel is key for the Gunners to produce a similar result?
TSF: The placements for three key starters that are injured. Both fullbacks are out, Tierney and Tomiyasu, although there is a chance Tomiyasu’s long delay surprisingly ends this weekend and he returns to action. Then there is Thomas Partey’s role and how Arteta manages the midfield to make up for his loss.
SMM: How do you see Arsenal lining up against Southampton this time out?
TSF: Let’s presume that Tomiyasu is still out for this question. I’d go with: Ramsdale – Xhaka, Gabriel, White, Cedric – Lokonga, Odegaard – Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Saka – Lacazette. Although I’d be fine with Tavares at left back, Xhaka in the midfield, Odegaard back as the #10, Martinelli up top with Smith Rowe on the left, placing Lacazette on the bench.
SMM: Finally, what is your prediction?
TSF: 2-0 to Arsenal. They have to win to stay in the hunt for fourth and know a response is needed after losing to Palace and Brighton.
We’d like to thank Nathan and The Short Fuse for their time.