Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents. Southampton are the visitors to Emirates Stadium on Saturday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and Gordon SimpsonMICHAEL COXSouthampton conceded six goals on their Emirates Stadium debut last season, but 14 months on they’re a completely different side, boasting the second best defensive record from Europe’s major five leagues, behind Serie A leaders Roma. They’re also the only Premier League side unbeaten in their most recent six matches.
The initially controversial appointment of Mauricio Pochettino has proved to be a masterstroke, with the Argentine introducing an exciting brand of high-tempo football featuring direct, purposeful passing and energetic closing down in a 4-2-3-1 system.
In Southampton’s previous Premier League game, a 4-1 home victory over Hull City, their attacking was rather divided into two separate sections. The first part involved a triangle between striker Rickie Lambert, central attacking midfielder Adam Lallana, and left winger Jay Rodriguez - all three of whom represented England this week.
"Interestingly, Southampton have the sixth-highest average possession share in the division, despite having only the 10th-highest pass completion rate"
Lallana and Rodriguez are comfortable switching positions as moves unfold, and there’s something reminiscent of Santi Cazorla in Lallana’s playing style, in the way he drifts wide from central positions into clever pockets of space.
While Lambert’s background in the lower leagues means he’s often considered an old-school, simple No 9, Pochettino has encouraged him to focus more on his link-up play, and he’s capable of moving short to receive possession, before knocking through-balls for Lallana and Rodriguez, who storm into the space beyond him.
In the centre of midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin has been partnered this season by newcomer Victor Wanyama, who has been impressive in a defensive sense, but against Hull was repeatedly guilty of squandering possession in dangerous positions. Schneiderlin can burst forward effectively but will probably play more conservatively on Saturday.
At the back, Dejan Lovren has struck up a great understanding with Jose Fonte. Both are powerful in the air, but also comfortable defending high up the pitch, which is crucial in a side that presses heavily. Both Clyne and left-back Luke Shaw are capable of overlapping energetically.
Interestingly, Southampton have the sixth-highest average possession share in the division, despite having only the 10th-highest pass completion rate. This sums up how quickly they regain possession once it has been lost.
GORDON SIMPSON, SOUTHERN DAILY ECHOThere are a couple of reasons why Southampton have been so hard to beat this season.
Firstly, I think in Artur Boruc they've got a very strong goalkeeper - they had a few problems in that position at the start of last season but it has really settled down since he's come into the side.
The Saints made an outstanding acquisition in Dejan Lovren, the Croatian centre half. He's been one of the real stars defensively in the Premier League this season. The've got a good, solid base to build from and they also have the added protection of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama in the defensive-midfield roles.
"Obviously Arsenal have been the class of the division so far but I think Southampton have been the biggest surprise"
In general the Saints' pressing style of play puts the opposition under a lot of pressure and they tend to break down opposition attacks before they have even got going. I think that's one of reasons why they've been so good defensively this season.
The biggest thing Mauricio Pochettino has changed since he took over last season has been the style of play, particularly when they don't have the ball. They always play nice, attractive, passing football and they've continued that under Pochettino. But when don't have possession they press high up the pitch and it's a really intense style of play.
They are very good at disrupting opposing teams and in particular some of the bigger teams because they are the sides that like to play out from the back and they're set up well to disturb that sort of approach.
I don't think Southampton will change from their usual formation at the Emirates on Saturday. I would imagine they will set up in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation and I think they will try and do to Arsenal what they've done to Liverpool and Manchester United.
I think they will press the Gunners high up the pitch and see if they can win the ball off Arsenal deep in their own territory and try and attack them in that way. The Saints will try and hunt Arsenal down rather than just sitting back to try and keep Arsene Wenger's side out.
I'm expecting a really exciting game. Both teams have been excellent this season. Obviously Arsenal have been the class of the division so far but I think Southampton have been the biggest surprise. Both teams will go into the game with high confidence and I hope that both of them play well because it would make it a very exciting afternoon for everybody who's there.
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