After snapping a winless streak against Jose Mourinho in Premier League matches on Sunday, the Gunners now turn to ending another statistical oddity. Arsenal have not won a Premier League match at Southampton since Robert Pires scored the lone goal in a December 2003 match. Of course Arsenal’s 5-0 smashing of the Saints in the FA Cup overshadows this and gives fans an unusual level of confidence heading into a tricky fixture.
Rob Holding Being Set-Up For Greater Things?
The manager took time at his pre-match press conference to heap praise on his young defenceman. Responding to a question about the former Bolton player, Wenger thought aloud, “I think in all the games he has played until now he has shown intelligence and composure on the ball. He of course needs some defensive experience but in every single game I believe he became stronger through the game.”
Holding has played in 13 matches this season but has shown incredible maturity the more matches he’s played. Against Manchester United, not only did he hold his own defensively against some big names for the Red Devils, he was key in setting up the crucial second goal by Danny Welbeck. While it would be foolish to expect world-class performances every match at this point, it is encouraging to see growth from a younger defender.
What makes it even more important in the short and long term is the health of Laurent Koscielny. According to the boss he’ll take a fitness test just prior to the match to see if he’s available. If he is not, Holding becomes that much more important in the back three and needs to play well.
Long term, though, Arsenal need to begin identifying a replacement for Koscielny AND someone who can improve upon him. The French defender personifies Arsenal in many ways –world class and exceptional at times, but prone to dumb mistakes at the wrong time that can sink his team. Currently there are no central defenders that can easily be identified as his replacement a few years down the road. Mustafi can rebound from an abysmal season and Gabriel could continue to improve, but neither inspire the same confidence that Koscielny provides in the back. It is a lot of pressure to put on a young player, but matches like this go a long way to testing the potential.
Arsenal Actually Do Well in the Hangover Matches
September 24 – Arsenal destroy Chelsea 3-0. That Wednesday, they top Basel in the Champions League 2-0.
April 2 – Arsenal and Manchester City draw 2-2 in the Premier League. The following Wednesday, the Gunners destroy West Ham 3-0 at home.
April 23 – Arsenal knock Manchester City out of the FA Cup and win at home on Wednesday hosting Leicester City.
Arsenal this season have responded well midweek after getting a big result against a Big Five club. However, this is a small sample size, all three matches were at home, and the match the next weekend two out of three times ended in defeat. Can Arsenal use the Manchester United win to end the season on a hot streak? Top four may be tough but momentum going into an FA Cup Final would be useful.
Arsenal Predicted Starting XI
Cech; Holding-Gabriel-Mustafi; Monreal-Ramsey-Xhaka-The Ox; Sanchez-Welbeck-Ozil
Potentially not having Koscielny worries me immensely. However, the 3-4-3 and the big Manchester United victory gives Arsenal some momentum, as well as the most recent result against the Saints in the FA Cup. I can see a 2-1 victory for the Gunners.