Arsenal's reasonable start to the season got a whole lot better with their 2-0 win away to Liverpool in their last game. Unfortunately, the monster that is international football reared its ugly head, and the majority of their players headed off to represent their countries just after that game. Almost two weeks later the players are back at the club, and back into Premier League action with a home game against Southampton.
It would seem that only Abou Diaby picked up a knock during those internationals, and Arsene Wenger has said he could be available for this game, according to The Daily Mail. I would be very surprised to see Diaby risked, considering his continuous injury problems over the last six years. He has played very well so far this season, but Arsenal have to be sure he is fully fit before he plays.
Diaby's projected absence will probably give Aaron Ramsey a chance to get his first start of the season.
Like Diaby, Ramsey has found life a bit difficult after a horrifying injury, and he has slipped down the pecking order at Arsenal. Prior to his injury against Stoke, he was on the verge of being a first-team regular. Now, he looks to be more of a backup player, despite all the departures from the club.
With another two weeks of recovery under his belt, Wojciech Szczesny should be fit to resume in goal again.
Vito Mannone has done very well in his absence, but Szczesny is the first choice, and only injury will keep him out of the team. It was good to see Mannone step up and perform so admirably, and Szczesny must know he had to play well to remain first choice.
Otherwise, I would expect to see the same team that beat Liverpool take to the pitch again.
It will probably mean Laurent Koscielny will be on the bench again, as Per Mertesacker has played too well to be dropped. It's a straight battle between them to partner Thomas Vermaelen in the centre of the defence, as he is the captain and will play when it is fit.
The season starts to get really busy for Arsenal after this game, as Champions League games are on the horizon.
Arsenal start their campaign away to French champions Montpellier on Tuesday night, which will be a return home for Olivier Giroud. Hopefully, he can get his first goal for Arsenal against Southampton, but if not, who would bet against him opening his account against his former club?
Southampton have looked pretty good going forward in their three Premier League games so far, but their defence leaves a lot to be desired.
They played an attacking style in those games, and it left them vulnerable at the back. If they come to Arsenal and play an open attack, they could find themselves in for a very tough afternoon.
As long as the Arsenal players have their minds on the game they are playing, they have more than enough to cope with whatever Southampton have to offer.
The Arsenal players have been very disciplined in their defensive duties so far, but they have struggled to create chances against defensive opposition. Both Sunderland and Stoke set themselves up to keep Arsenal from scoring, and succeeded in getting 0-0 draws.
Arsenal showed their attacking abilities against a more open Liverpool team, and took a deserved 2-0 win from Anfield. I don't think Southampton have the players to try to stop Arsenal playing so there should be plenty of chances for them to score. It's an ideal opportunity for Arsenal to move a little closer to the top of the table before some very tough games scheduled for later in the month.
In the past, Arsenal have been guilty of lacking concentration in games like this, but all the signs point to a team with a lot more mental strength this season. Far too often in previous seasons, Arsenal have pressed forward from the start, only for their opponents to score on their first attack.
The team as a whole are defending a lot better, and the players seem to have a proper idea of what their defensive duties are.
Santi Cazorla has really taken to the role he has been given just behind the main striker. He seems to know exactly what to do when he gets the ball, and he takes up perfect positions to receive it. His goal and assist against Liverpool were, hopefully, just the start of a very productive season for him as an Arsenal player.
Giroud looked like he had settled in well, too, in those first three games, except when it came to taking his chances. Strikers are always judged on their goals scored, and hopefully the first goal he gets will open the floodgates. Both Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry opened their account for Arsenal against Southampton, and it would be great for Giroud to join their ranks.
The changes at the club have been quite remarkable in the last couple of years.
The team that beat Liverpool started with seven players who were signed June 2011 or later—it takes time for so many players to settle. The signs are very promising so far, and hopefully this can be a productive season for Arsenal.
I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal, but it will be far from easy for them to get the win.
Southampton have shown enough against the two Manchester teams so far to suggest they might be the first team to score against Arsenal this season. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the Arsenal defenders get their name on the scoresheet.
Arsenal aren't exactly noted for scoring goals from set pieces, but I think that could change as the influence of Steve Bould grows. He was part of an Arsenal team that excelled at scoring headers from free kicks and corners, and hopefully he can impart some of his knowledge in that area to the current players.
It's unusual to see Arsenal play at the traditional kickoff time of 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon. It's a great time for fans, though, and I'm sure those at the game will appreciate the start time. It's never easy for fans to attend away games on a Sunday, and Arsenal have their fair share of Sunday games coming up.
It's great to have proper football back again, but unfortunately, the next international break is only three weeks away.
Arsenal have four Premier League games in that time, and they need to start them with three points against Southampton. I'm pretty confident they can do just that and hopefully set themselves up nicely for the games ahead.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.
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