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Southampton Match Review

All bark no bite? Admit it, you were worried at 4-1. The slightest possibility of the Saints pulling a Newcastle lasted about two minutes for me, but then I realized that we were the ones in control of that match for 88/90 regulation minutes. They had moments here and there where questions were asked of our defense, but we breezed through that match, even with an altered lineup.

For this match review, we’ll start off a little differently. First, my MOTM has to go to Lukas Podolski, with Gervinho a close second. What made Podolski our best attacker was his fighting spirit and willingness to do it all; pass, shoot, defend.

Player Lukas Podolski
Shots (On Target) 2(2)
Total Passes 31
Pass Completion 100%
Key Passes 2
Successful Dribbles 4

Those stats back up the stereotype of German efficiency. Today we saw the absolute best of Podolski, a proper number 10. He can contribute to and score goals for fun, not to mention help out his partnered fullback with ease. Some may have had their doubts over Prince Poldi, especially if they’d talked to Bayern fans, but it looks as though he’s another brilliant signing by the boss.

Aside from Podolski being the standout performer, every member of the team put in a good shift today. A performance that (almost) everyone can be proud of. Here are the three basic reasons we stomped Southampton.

Productive Strikers

Podolski’s work alongside Gervinho and Cazorla was phenomenal, and the reason why our attacking lineup was so lethal. What made our attack so difficult for the Saints to deal with was our dynamism. When defending, our three forwards would drop back to be level or at times behind the midfield, who would press past the centre circle. Upon winning back possession, a synchronized charge from The Ox, Podolski and Gervinho was too difficult for the Saints to mark, leading to confusion and ultimately, mistakes. Once in possession in the final third, Gervinho and Podolski often interchanged positions, giving Nathaniel Clyne a snowball’s chance in hell at defending convincingly.

I had this to say in a quick tactics post yesterday, and I got it pretty much bang on.

“In my eyes, Lukas Podolski could be our most dangerous attacker today, as he goes up against the stuttering Nathaniel Clyne. He’s had some nightmare errors these past few weeks, and too many of those will dent anyone’s confidence. Hopefully we can capitalize on a generally weak defense to score early, and see out the rest of our game doing what we do best: passing and moving.”

Overall a good showing from everyone involved. The only downside to our front line today was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He worked hard, and tried to create chances down the right flank, but I think a combination and lack of support at times put him in the deep end. He played for England midweek, which could explain his slight fatigue, but I put this subdued performance down to inexperience. We’re witnessing his transformation from a wide player to a central midfielder, and so far things seem to moving along smoothly. If he’s meant to be a central midfielder, then Arsène should be playing him there exclusively, even if it means he has to sit on the bench a little more often.

Efficient Midfielders

A good showing from our midfielders. They all worked hard, and it paid off as we were in the driver’s seat for the entire match, stringing passes together like nobody’s business and tiring out the opposition with our constant movement off the ball.

With Abou Diaby out injured, Francis Coquelin received the green light to start alongside Mikel Arteta. It worked well for defensive contribution and stability, but the pair were often guilty of sitting too deep in tandem, making Santi Cazorla our only attacking midfielder of the trio.

This is why I wonder where Coquelin fits into the picture when both Diaby and Arteta are fit. Ideally, it’s  Arteta who would be sacrificed in order to blood our young French Bulldog, but the Spaniard’s level of consistency suggests he’s a permanent fixture in our starting lineup. Abou Diaby is the more “complete” player of the two, in the sense that his attacking prowess is matched defensively. Right now, Coquelin is the closest thing we have to a natural defensive midfielder, so replacing a box to box midfielder with him doesn’t make much sense. Despite this selection headache, Coquelin made a decent case for himself alongside Arteta, managing a quiet match with few mistakes. Due to his recent lack of playing time for the club, you could see he’s not quite as sharp as he was last season, but that will come as he gets more games under his belt this year.

Player Francis Coquelin
Tackles 0
Interceptions 3
Total Passes 50
Pass Accuracy 92%
Key Passes 1
Crosses (Accurate) 1(1)
Long Balls (Accurate) 1(1)

The problem with Coquelin and Arteta playing together is that they tried to do the same job. Most times, it was Arteta who was forced to clean up after a mistake from Coquelin. When Mikel did get on the attack however, he bagged an assist in setting up Gervinho for his first goal of the season. For whatever reason, I’ve always noticed that Arteta doesn’t get involved in the attack enough, he’s simply the fulcrum between attack and defense. He’s capable of much more, but something’s holding him back. Whether it’s Arsène giving him a specific job to do, or his own judgement curtailing his offensive urges, I don’t know. All I know is that he’s far too strong a passer to sit by the halfway line for the entire match and watch.

Going Back to Basics

The Arsenal of old are back. We fuse physicality and strength with finesse and skill. Gone are the days where we pass into the net. Yesterday we took 25 shots, of which 8 were outside of the box. Build up play is purposeful and quick, no more pondering in possession, seeing as we only had 50% of the ball. We’re aggressive, accurate and lethal. The Arsenal we knew and loved have returned, and are here to stay.

What We Need to Improve

There are only three players I’d like to see improve, and all three have excuses for the moment. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain needs to improve his fitness in preparation for a heavy season. Wojciech Szczesny needs to work hard in training to bounce back from his injury and regain his form that’s taken a sharp dive since the end of last year. Francis Coquelin needs to find an understanding with Abou Diaby or Mikel Arteta that benefits the midfield both in attack and defense.

Anders

Graphs and Data provided by WhoScored, FootballFormation and ESPN.

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