Dangerous Saints await as real football returns

Twelve days without blogging seems a little lazy to me, so it’s about time I penned something in time for our important date with newly-promoted Southampton tonight. The last time I had the pleasure of writing for you was fresh after our excellent win at Liverpool, but since then, the international break has sung its soporific song for a good week-and-a-half

At the risk of becoming a preview-review blog, there was not one iota of news that really compelled me to blog about. Abou Diaby enjoyed an excellent showing for France before tweaking a thigh muscle (more on that later); Gervinho scored for Ivory Coast, and Bacary Sagna had a whinge about Alex Song departing Arsenal.

In other news, Ivan Gazidis gave a gushing interview about Arsene Wenger’s DNA being sewn into the Arsenal fabric, or something poetically akin to that.

So that’s the wrap of the boring fortnight that was. Real football can finally backtrack to where it was in the conversation before its idiot friend International Matches interrupted with one of its many unfunny jokes.

Today’s match is an exceptionally important fixture, especially given the potential banana peels presenting themselves to our rivals. Man City play Stoke at the Brittania and Chelsea travel to Queens Park Rangers. Man United should win at home to Wigan, but you just never know with the Latics.

So it makes it imperative we follow our first win of the season against Liverpool with another three points against Southampton. Straight from the Championship they may be, but easy-beats they are not. In Gaston Ramirez they have a very accomplished winger, and a dangerous forward in Rickie Lambert. Both he and midfielders Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin will prove tricky customers at set pieces for the Arsenal defence and will be just as dangerous on the counter. Two goals in their opening game against Man City shows all you need to know about their potential in attack.

So Arsenal will have to fight just as hard as they did against Stoke and Liverpool to get anything out of this match. Southampton look like a team that isn’t afraid of anyone and is willing to throw the dice in attack. 100% concentration required, methinks.

To the line-up, and the first change we will definitely see is Wojcech Szczesny coming in for Vito Mannone between the sticks. Mannone has been brilliant when required this season, but the sad reality of using your back-up keepers is you have to use them sparingly when the first-choice has been out through injury, not poor form. So the Pole’s seniority should see him picked in goal.

Diaby’s will be rested for this game, so it’s a choice for the manager between the playmaker Aaron Ramsey and defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin. I’d imagine Ramsey will get first pick and I’ll be glad to see him start his first game this season, but I think in Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta (who will both start), the team has enough creative influence in the middle of the park and could do with a skirmisher alongside them. My choice is Coquelin for the third midfield spot.

Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud will keep their spots, leaving one last decision for the manager in going with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against his old club, or Gervinho. Myself, I’d pick the Ivorian. His tricky dribbling should come good against the Saints’ defence and I’d be confident in him picking up an assist today if all goes well.

Finally, while Laurent Koscielny has returned to full fitness, I’m backing the same back four to play again this week.

Everyone has been going on about Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry broke their Arsenal scoring ducks against Southampton in years’ past, and linking that with another Arsenal player yet to score for his team.

I too am fully backing that bit of trivia to come true tonight, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it will be wonderful for Per Mertesacker to score his long-awaited first goal for Arsenal. If anyone deserves it, it’s him.

Nyuck nyuck. Here’s to a good showing tonight, another clean sheet (seriously, they’re the best things about the season so far) and a good attacking display that yields goals aplenty.

Match report to follow. Enjoy the game!

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