Mikel Arteta is facing plenty of tough decisions as he prepares for another Premier League away trip to Southampton this weekend.
St. Mary’s was arguably the place where their top four hopes came crumbling down last season and with that in mind Arteta will be keen to exact some revenge.
“Well obviously it was an experience that was painful, especially with the consequences,” he said of last season’s visit in his pre-match press conference. “We know where the danger is with that team.”
Following Manchester City’s defeat at Liverpool last week the Gunners go into this game safe in the knowledge that they will be top of the Premier League no matter what happens this weekend, but they will want to preserve the four-point gap that they’ve worked so hard to build. With that in mind it’s crucial that Arteta gets his selection right.
That will likely start with the return of Aaron Ramsdale to side. Matt Turner was good when called upon in midweek against PSV, but the England keeper is starting to find his best form just as the World Cup approaches and will be looking to build on his impressive display at Leeds last week.
What has helped Ramsdale of course is the settled nature of the defence in front of him. Come rain or shine it has been Ben White at right-back with a central defensive pairing of William Saliba and Gabriel so far this season in the league. At left back though the decisions become a bit more complicated.
It does not appear as though Oleksandr Zinchenko will be fit as he continues to recover from his calf problem which leaves Arteta to choose between Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney at left-back. Tomiyasu had one of his worst performances for Arsenal against Leeds last week, but bounced back well on Thursday night by pocketing Cody Gakpo. Given that the Japanese international was withdrawn before full time against PSV you assume it will be him starting on the south coast. It’s once again harsh on Tierney but the Scot didn’t quite do enough on Thursday to warrant a return to the side.
In midfield it was noticeable how much the levels raised once Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard were introduced on Thursday night. That’s not to say that Albert Sambi Lokonga or Fabio Vieira had particularly bad games, but there can be little doubting who the first choices in midfield are. Alongside Granit Xhaka they’ll be looking to ensure Arsenal maintain their dominance against lesser opposition this season.
Gabriel Martinelli’s presence on the bench and late cameo against PSV would presumably suggest that he will be available for Sunday too despite missing a training session on Wednesday with illness. Inside of him Gabriel Jesus will look to end a scoring drought that now stretches back four matches.
That leaves one spot in the team for Bukayo Saka on the right. There were concerns as the England international went down with a calf injury late in the win over PSV, but Arteta has called on him to show the physical robustness and consistency required to be one of the best in the game. Southampton will mark five starts in just 14 days for Saka, but if he wants to reach his potential in elite competitions like the Champions League then these are the physical demands that he will have to get used to.
Arsenal predicted XI vs Southampton – Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tomiyasu; Lokonga, Xhaka, Odegaard; Saka, Jesus, Martinelli.