Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Southampton in the Premier League on Tuesday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Southampton’s Boxing Day victory over Arsenal came midway through an otherwise disastrous run of eight games where Ronald Koeman’s side collected just one other point. The Saints were playing so badly that the manager decided to entirely reshape his side, and following a switch to a three-man defence, they’ve won three in a row.
This improvement also coincides with goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s return after a serious knee injury, with the tall keeper recording three consecutive clean sheets.
"The front three is flexible, which means Southampton can look like 3-4-3, 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-2-1 at various points. Koeman uses one natural attacking midfielder: perhaps the tricky Dusan Tadic, but more likely the energetic Steven Davis, who often plays well against Arsenal."
Interestingly, Southampton’s backline features a natural full-back, Ryan Bertrand, on the left of the trio. He’s tucked in and defended solidly, although takes up more advanced positions than Jose Fonte, who patrols the centre, and right-sided Virgil van Dijk.
Koeman is blessed with two promising young players suited to the physically demanding wing-back roles. Cedric Soares looked shaky defensively earlier in the season, but his crossing skills are better utilised in this more advanced role, while Matt Targett was unlikely to permanently displace Bertrand at left-back, but this system means Koeman can use both. Width is important to this side: Southampton attempt the highest number of crosses in the Premier League.
The two-man central midfield combination is based around Victor Wanyama, who stays deep in a centre-right position, breaks up play and distributes the ball reliable to the flanks. Alongside him should be the more creative Jordy Clasie, who moves forward to the left and is astute at finding the three attackers. James Ward-Prowse could play instead, however, and his dead ball expertise has contributed to Southampton being the Premier League’s second-most prolific team this season from set-pieces, with 10 goals.
The front three is flexible, which means Southampton can look like 3-4-3, 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-2-1 at various points. Koeman uses one natural attacking midfielder: perhaps the tricky Dusan Tadic, but more likely the energetic Steven Davis, who often plays well against Arsenal. Just ahead of him should be Sadio Mane, who initially impressed as a forward or a wide midfielder, but has been extremely lively in a withdrawn role.
Shane Long, who gave Laurent Koscielny a difficult time in the reverse fixture, will lead the line. He’s not the tallest, but is nevertheless a useful target for long balls because of his excellent first touch, and his movement into the channels is extremely dangerous. Graziano Pelle is an option, but Charlie Austin’s winner at Old Trafford last weekend, seven minutes after coming off the bench to make his debut, means he’s an obvious Plan B.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.