Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Southampton - Match Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

Arsenal could create a minor record on Saturday against Southampton.

It would be a footballing footnote; a triviality if you like. But a sport that for so long saw itself as an art form now increasingly analyses itself as a science. And stats in this area are considered to be key performance indicators.

Here it is...

If Arsène Wenger's side do not concede on Saturday it will be the first time in Arsenal's history that they will have started a top-flight season with four clean sheets.

Wasn't a revelation was it? Bit of a let-down actually.

But consider this. In the last five Premier League seasons, Arsenal have conceded an average of 40.2 goals while the title-winning side have let in 28.8. The differential in goalscoring is much closer which means, at the risk stating the obvious, Wenger's men need to concede less if they are going to challenge seriously for the title. The manager is all too aware and has a target in mind - even if he did not know about the potential achievement on Saturday.

"We have broken a few records so why not this one?" he said. "It's the target.

"Of course the real target is just to win the game, and the best way is not to concede. Let's keep the same attitude when we don't have the ball. Then we have a chance to achieve this. I believe that we can do it.

"Overall what I have in mind is not to concede as many as we did last year, because we conceded 49 goals. Of course that is far too high to fight for a title. We have to take it a little bit into perspective because we conceded eight at Manchester United last year. But still I believe a good record is under 35."

The international break was unwelcome for Wenger. His side had been satisfied enough with goalless draws at home to Sunderland on the opening day and at Stoke the following week. Liverpool away was supposed to be a tougher test. But, offensively and defensively, Arsenal had even greater control. They outfought and outthought the Anfield side with Lukas Podolski and the effervescent Santi Cazorla hitting their first goals for the club. The manager now has to instil that purpose into his side once more.

"Yes I would have loved not to have had [the international break] but it is part of our job to deal with that," he said. "We had a game full of dynamic desire, great team attitude and to get that energy level back to the same we had it at Liverpool is our target now of course. That's not easy. It helps a little bit that you have 24 hours more than previously because international games are on a Tuesday now. That is what is at stake for us - to come back to the same level we had before the break."

The only new absentee from the international recess is Theo Walcott - and that is for a virus rather than an injury. Yes, Abou Diaby played for France and is facing a test on his muscular problem but he is OK and you sense the manager is being ultra-cautious with trips to Montpellier and Manchester City next week.

Wojciech Szczesny is fit after missing the last two games with a rib injury but Lukas Fabianski is still out.

Southampton will arrive at Emirates Stadium rock-bottom in the Premier League without a point and the second worst goals against column. But it is not the whole story. They gained huge credit in a pair of 3-2 defeats to the two Manchester clubs. The 2-0 home defeat to Wigan in between does not bode so well but manager Nigel Adkins has invested heavily - nearly £20 million on Jay Rodriguez and Gaston Ramierez if you believe the reported figures - as part of a positive attacking philosophy.

Sunderland ‘parked the bus' at Emirates Stadium back on August 18 and protected a point for 90 frustrating minutes. You suspect a Southampton side that frankly don't know how good they are at the top-flight level will come with the ambition of swiping all three from under Wenger's nose.

"I saw the game against Man United," said the manager. "And they played well.

"Of course, they were a bit unlucky, like they were at Manchester City, and they were 2-1 up. But they look like a talented side that play with a positive attitude and have talented players.

"I didn't see the game against Wigan but that's the kind of game they must regret because they can calculate they may lose against Man City and Man United, but against the teams who fight with them, they will want to win.

"Three games without a win can affect the way they approach the game of course. They know they have potential and they will try to transform that potential into points. Maybe their approach will be a bit more cautious on Saturday.

"But they were the dominant team in the Championship and the experience we have is that these teams that come up now make life difficult for you."

That is all true. Southampton have shown scant regard for the Premier League's elite thus far and we can expect hand-to-hand combat rather than the trench warfare we saw against Sunderland.

Expansive football could play into Arsenal's hands but newly-promoted sides should come with a health warning until you start to smell Christmas.

After Saturday, Wenger's men have two Champions League ties plus Chelsea (h) and Manchester City (a) within a fortnight. A slow start gained momentum at Anfield and would gather further pace if Southampton are swept aside. An early-season roll will help knock over the significant skittles placed just in front of them.

The contrast to last term is stark. This time Arsenal are tight, settled and efficient. If they can get through this tough little spell having retained those qualities then the belief can really start to flow.

And if they get through Saturday without conceding a goal, that so-called ‘footballing footnote' might suggest this Arsenal side has significantly improvement in a key area.

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