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Arsenal vs. Southampton - Q&A with St. Mary’s Musings

Checking in on the Saints.

Manchester United v Southampton - EFL Cup Final Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After a strong run of form to get Arsenal into 5th place, the club has slid, dropping three of the last four as they were away from the Emirates. At home, they remain at the top of the Premier League, picking up 10 points from the last four matches and 16 points from the last eight. They will be desperate to see those stats continue as Saturday’s opponent has struggled on the road. Southampton has just five points from their seven road games this season.

With four of the remaining six matches this month at home, Arsenal have a chance to once again build a stretch of positive points. We’ve seen them take a trio of losses and turn around with controlled results. The squad are now put to the task again, especially with Manchester City and the away North London Derby coming up in January.

This week we are talking with Jake Hughes from St. Mary’s Musings, to get up to speed on how things are going with Southampton, the future with Hasenhüttl, Saturday’s match, and checking in on an Arsenal fan-favorite.

TSF: It was a slow start to the season for Southampton with no wins in the first seven matches. What went wrong from the start and how much were you fearing a relegation battle at that point?

SMM: I’d largely put the slow start down to a tough run of fixtures (in the main) for Southampton. While Everton aren’t in the best shape right now, Saints haven’t won at Goodison Park since 1997 and that run continued in 2021. Then came a run of mostly decent draws against good teams in Manchester United, West Ham, and Manchester City, ignoring the Newcastle tie, followed by losses to Wolves and Chelsea before recording our first win against Leeds.

Not the best start, but considering our next-to-no momentum from such a run of games, I can’t complain too much. With our significant lack of funding, you always fear a relegation battle before each season.

TSF: Then the club turned a corner, winning three of the next four. Were there any big tactical or player changes that lead to those results or was it down to an easier schedule?

SMM: It’s most definitely the easier schedule. In most of those draws and losses in the first seven matches, it was clear that Saints were at least competitive against much more capable teams so it felt like it was a matter of time before results started improving.

TSF: After two seasons as the clubs leading scorer, Danny Ings left this past summer for Aston Villa. Was it the best move for the club, given the price and his age, to move forward without Ings, if the club could have convinced him to stay to help maintain their position in the Premier League?

SMM: Great question, and the answer is really hard to say. There is no doubt that Danny Ings was Southampton’s biggest goal threat in a long time and we were perhaps over-reliant on his goals. But, he has hardly pulled up any trees at Aston Villa so far and his injury worries seemed to have resurfaced since making the move to the Midlands.

In hindsight, I think it was the best move for all parties. Ings’ replacement Adam Armstrong hasn’t quite hit the ground running like we hoped at Southampton, but at least we know he can make it to the starting lineup fit and ready unlike his predecessor.

TSF: Partially in a move to fill that void in comes Armando Broja on loan from Chelsea. After 11 goals for Vitesse last season, he is now Southampton’s top goal scorer. What has he brought to the club and do you think they will try to sign him permanently if he can reach 10-15 goals?

SMM: I think many people at Southampton will want to sign Armando Broja on a permanent basis - the question is, will Chelsea allow him to leave? Broja is dynamic in so many ways that you would want in a striker - he’s strong, quick and is tricky inside the box with a decent finish on him. He has added some much-needed impetus up front for Saints and I would love to see him stay down here at St Mary’s.

TSF: Currently Southampton is in 16th, but six points clear of relegation. Going in the congested winter fixtures what is the mood around the club?

SMM: Like always with Southampton, there isn’t really a straight answer. There is an air of frustration due to this age-old issue of Saints dropping points from leading positions, like against Leicester a couple of weeks ago and then again with Brighton last weekend.

Saints should be in a much more comfortable position going into the winter calendar, but every team is close in that congested mid-to-lower Premier League table. Southampton have some tricky fixtures, so the hope is we can remain competitive in the games we aren’t expected to win, and get good results against the teams near us in the standings.

TSF: Between injuries and the current look of the table, do you expect Southampton to be active during the January transfer market, and if so, at what position(s)?

SMM: I think it’s unlikely, to be honest. We have a bit of an issue with goalkeepers at the moment, with injuries to both Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster. So much so, we signed 40-year-old Willy Caballero on a free until January.

The problem Southampton has is we have an owner who is either unable or unwilling to part with any of their money. So unless Saints sell a couple of players, it’s unlikely we’ll see anyone incoming.

TSF: Ralph Hasenhüttl has been at the club for about three years now, with 11th his best finish (2019-2020). Is he still viewed as the manager for the next few seasons? Would he remain/survive if the club was relegated?

SMM: The fanbase seems to be split on this. Personally speaking, I think Ralph Hasenhuttl is the right man for the job. We have a thin squad and our optimal Starting XI is lower down the league in terms of quality and I think he is doing a solid enough job in the main to warrant sticking around. If Saints were to get relegated, I would still want him to stick around (if he wanted to!) as I don’t think there are better options who are out of work. But I think there will be a lot of vocal fans who would call for his head - that pressure could be enough to see the Southampton hierarchy cut ties with him.

TSF: 15 years after he left, Theo Walcott returned to Southampton last season on loan (22 matches & 3 goals). But now as a permanent signing, he’s failed to have an impact, making just six appearances. Could we see Hasenhüttl eventually give him a shot as the side looks for more goals or is this perhaps what his role will be moving forward?

SMM: I can’t see Theo Walcott’s role in this squad changing, to be honest. He looked good in the early stages of his loan move here and Saints perhaps jumped the gun a bit by securing his free transfer to the club before last season ended.

Walcott could play a bit more during the mad run of games over Christmas as an option to keep the squad fresh, but he’s not good enough to be starting for Southampton right now.

TSF: What formation should Arsenal expect Southampton to use in this match and who is in your predicted starting XI?

SMM: Southampton mostly play in a 4-2-2-2 formation, but have went with a 5-3-2 against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. While the 5-3-2 worked pretty well against United, City and Chelsea, it didn’t against Liverpool. With all due respect to Arsenal, I think Saints will line up in a 4-2-2-2 rather than go too defensive. Though, Oriol Romeu and Mohammed Salisu, two of our key defensive players, are suspended so who knows.

Predicted starting XI: Caballero - Livramento, Lyanco, Stephens, Walker-Peters - Ward-Prowse, Diallo - Redmond, Elyounoussi - Broja, Adams

TSF: And finally, give us your prediction for how the match will go.

SMM: I’m hopeful Southampton can get a positive result at the Emirates, and given our list of injuries and suspensions, a point would more than suit me! 1-1.

Thanks to Jake and St. Mary’s Musings.