In previous encounters with Arsenal at St Mary’s, Southampton have always had success with flooding the centre of midfield with aggressive combatants.
Arsenal’s central midfield in recent times, without the presence of a silky playmaker, think Mikel Arteta, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla, struggles against the half press.
The Gunner’s new formation has provided a little more solidity in central areas, what with the three centre backs and all, but there will still be an emphasis on Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka (or Francis Coquelin, should the Swiss still be sidelined) to quickly distribute the ball, beating the likely pressure from Oriol Romeu, James Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis.
Of course, this would mainly be down to the Swiss playmaker, who is lauded for his range of passing – we are still to see whether it holds up under pressure.
That’s not to discredit the central pairing though; on Sunday, Xhaka sat back like a young Andrea Pirlo, while Ramsey’s forward runs disrupted the Arsenal defence, if only he could finish like he did three seasons ago!
As for the rest of the team, the battles on the flank will be as intriguing. The excellent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be up against the increasingly talented Ryan Bertrand, while Dusan Tadic’s tendency to cut inside may mean he plays as a second striker of sorts, occupying one of the centre backs.
Away from the midfield, it’s arguable Arsenal’s offence will be too overwhelming, despite Southampton’s solidity. Retaining Danny Welbeck in the starting lineup will continue the fluidity we saw against Manchester United. Both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have showed they are capable of playing from deep, should the opposition defence carry out a low block tactic – relying on the instincts of their striker, as well as the energy of Kieran Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Let’s just hope Southampton don’t reinstate Shane ‘Arsenal Killer’ Long ahead of Manolo Gabbiadin!