Arsenal vs. Southampton: 3 Saints Players the Gunners Should Be Wary of
On paper, Arsenal's home fixture against newly-promoted Southampton looks like an opportunity to dominate for the Gunners. While that may prove to be the case, Southampton haven't been a pushover for any of their first three opponents this season.
The Saints ran last season's champions Manchester City close, eventually succumbing to yet another Citizens 3-2 comeback. They were 2-1 ahead against Manchester United, before some questionable substitutions condemned them to another 3-2 reverse.
If Arsenal don't want to be caught cold by the Saints, these are three players they should pay close attention to.
Rickie Lambert, Striker
Prolific and bullish marksman Rickie Lambert dominated United central defensive pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Granted, it was the first time the two had played together in what seems like an eternity, but not many players have made the veteran duo look as ordinary as Lambert did.
He was mobile, strong and determined in the air. That's been a weakness for Arsenal in recent seasons, but the Gunners have so far appeared better equipped to handle the aerial threat during this campaign.
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That's because Per Mertesacker seems to have become comfortable with the rough and tumble of the English Premier League. He deserves to keep his place in the squad and should be tasked with marshaling Lambert.
Whomever plays in the middle has to provide support to full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson. Lambert was frequently allowed to drift away from Ferdinand and Vidic and target United's full-backs.
Arsenal simply cannot allow that to happen, or Southampton will surely dent their perfect defensive record.
Jason Puncheon, Winger
Jason Puncheon is another player who caused United fits. Operating in a wide role, Puncheon swapped wings and simply terrorised Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva.
In fact, United could find no answer for the diminutive speedster. Their answer was actually gifted to them by Southampton manager Nigel Adkins. He substituted both Lambert and Puncheon with the score at just 2-1 in a baffling piece of generosity that still defies understanding.
Arsenal's full-backs shouldn't count on Adkins being quite as charitable this time around. Gibbs and Jenkinson have both been solid this season. However, they will need to stay disciplined and rely on support from the Gunners' wide forwards to cope with Puncheon's speed and trickery.
Adam Lallana, Attacking midfielder
If there is one Southampton player Arsenal must control, it is Adam Lallana. The Saints playmaker is one of the most underrated talents in the EPL.
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It's one of the mysteries of recent seasons that Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain earned lucrative moves to England's top tier, while Lallana stayed put. He is blessed with a sure touch and keen creative awareness.
The 24-year-old is the one player who adds an element of genuine class to Southampton's attacks. It will be vital that Mikel Arteta, who has so far occupied the defensive role in Arsenal's midfield, doesn't lose track of Lallana's movements.
Most of the attention will likely be on how well Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski do up front. However, the fact that Southampton scored four goals against last season's top two means their own ability to cause Arsenal problems can't be overlooked.
Arsenal have made a habit of falling victim to so-called "trap games" in recent seasons. This weekend, they must build on their morale-boosting and highly-impressive dismantling of Liverpool last time out. As impressive as Arsenal have looked at times this campaign, they still only have five points from three games.
That makes a home clash against newly-promoted opposition a must-win fixture, particularly with fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea looming large.
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