Arsenal host Southampton at the Emirates Stadium today, with the game set to kick off at 2:15pm. Arsenal are sixth in the table, while the Saints are 18th.
Arsenal don’t really have anything to play for in the Premier League, and the Europa League is where it’s at for them at this stage. They’re five points behind Chelsea, so there’s a chance they could finish ahead of the Blues if they go on to win all of their games, but that doesn’t really make a difference. Fifth and sixth are much the same for them. Their poor form this season has them in an awful position, and they need to win the Europa League to get into the Champions League next season and win a European trophy.
That doesn’t mean they can just completely forget about their league games either though. They need to keep winning domestically to give themselves a bit of momentum going into the European games. Losing in the Premier League won’t help their confidence, and it certainly wouldn’t help the humour of their fans in the Emirates. They’re going to need their fans behind them for their Europa games, and winning consistently is the only way they’ll do that.
I don’t think we’ll see Arsene Wenger make wholesale changes to his side, because he’ll need to keep his top players playing so they don’t get a bit rusty. Earlier in the season, we saw that playing two completely different sides for the Premier League and Europa League doesn’t really work. Arsenal didn’t look great with their second string 11, so we’ll more than likely see Wenger stick to a strong team. He might make a few changes here and there, as we have seen in recent weeks. He has been resting Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey, and we could see something similar today. Maybe the likes of Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny and Danny Welbeck will come in, but only time will tell.
Arsene Wenger said: “Southampton are a team who have a good technical quality and I am quite surprised to find them where they are.
“They gave us a very good game this season. Honestly I don’t know, maybe they had injuries, lost Virgil van Dijk [to Liverpool] as well and needed time to recover from that.”It is part of the modern game, it is why clubs have to continue to work with what they believe is right.
“It is certainly more difficult because the pressure from the fans is bigger everywhere now.
“I don’t know how it is at Southampton but they have shown remarkable work. If you think, they were in League One and when you think back now to the quality of players they had, it is quite impressive.”
Arsenal will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan today. He picked up a knee injury on Thursday night, and there are fears that he may miss the rest of the season. David Ospina will also miss out, as he has a sprained ankle. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will start up front, and as mentioned we may see Wenger making a few changes.
This game is hugely important for Southampton. They have a real battle on their hands if they’re going to stay in the Premier League this season. They’re 18th, but a win today would lift them out of the relegation zone and ahead of Crystal Palace. They have two games in hand over the Eagles, so they’re definitely in with a shout of staying up, but they really need to turn things around quickly.
Mark Hughes got off to a winning start, beating Wigan in the FA Cup quarter-final, but was quickly brought back down to earth last week when they were beaten 3-0 by West Ham. That was a huge, huge game for them, and they couldn’t manage to get anything from it. Today won’t be their easiest opportunity to pick up points either, and they have to play Chelsea next week as well. Their fixtures between now and the end of the season are quite difficult, and staying up won’t be an easy task.
It’ll be interesting to see how the players respond to Mark Hughes. I’m not sure if he can get the best out of them or not, but change was definitely needed. They need to turn things around today and try to get something from the game. They’ll more than likely look to keep it tight, but it would be interesting to see how they got on if they really pressed Arsenal. We have seen the Gunners really struggle against sides that don’t give them a second on the ball in the past, and putting them under real pressure could make the difference for the Saints.
A good performance is desperately needed though, as they have been poor on far too many occasions this season. They definitely have the quality required to stay up, as there’s a few very good players in their team, but they need to sort things out quickly.
Mark Hughes told Southampton’s official website: “We’ve had a good working week in terms of hours and minutes on the training field to go through things we think will help.
“Clearly, we went through the process of reviewing the game against West Ham and what we need to do better moving forwards.
“We need to be ready at the weekend and given the way we performed at West Ham, we have to be better and I sense the group fully expects themselves to be.
“Sometimes confidence can affect people in different ways. You’ve got to be able to be strong mentally and physically to compete at this level.
“They’re good players here and technically they are excellent but you need other elements in your make up to be able to get through situations that will test you.
“I’m looking at the group every single day, every minute that I’m working with them to make sure I have a better understanding of who is ready to go and who is not.”
Mario Lemina has been ill this week, but has a chance of playing. Sam McQueen is out with a groin injury, but the Saints seem to be OK on the injury front apart from him.
Arsenal seem to have sorted things out, and have been on a much better run of form lately. They’ve won their last five games in all competitions, and will be hoping to extend that to six today. Southampton, on the other hand, haven’t won in any of their last five league games and have only picked up two points from them. Getting anything from today’s game would be a huge positive for them, but they will find it difficult today, I think. I have to side towards the Gunners here for obvious reasons, but if Southampton are willing to really fight we could have a surprise on the cards.
The team news for this one will be out at 1:15pm, and you’ll get that up here as well. I’ll be watching the game, and you can follow it with me on Twitter. Enjoy the game.