Archive for September 15th, 2012

Southampton Preview: Today is about far more than Olivier Giroud

395 comments September 15th, 2012

Olivier Giroud has started just two games for Arsenal.  He has had just two noteworthy chances.  And yet already there is talk of him being ‘under pressure’.  Football has truly never been quite so hysterical and reactionary.

I won’t deny he could go with a goal.  The way he struck his wayward efforts against Sunderland and Liverpool suggested a player hurrying his shot in order to accelerate his adaptation with a first strike in Arsenal colours.  What he needs is composure and confidence.  That will come with time and, of course, goals.

There is a growing sense of expectation that journey will begin against Southampton.  By an odd quirk of fate, Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry all opened their accounts against the Saints, and a home game against a newly-promoted opponent does seem likely to offer up at least one presentable opportunity to our primary centre-forward.

Should be score, I’ll be delighted.  Should he not, I’ll be completely fine with it – as long as Arsenal win.  It’s clear that Arsene’s transfer policy this summer was largely dictated by a need to spread goals around the team after Van Persie’s departure.  He is hoping for Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud to match the Dutchman’s tally over the season collectively.  He will help do that over the course of the season, whether or not he gets off the mark today.

The only important prize is victory, and anyone who saw Southampton play against City and United knows they’re not likely to roll over without a fight today.  Much has been made of the fact that our defence have conceded as many goals as Giroud has scored, but I think we’ll be tested by a side who play, quite rightly, as if they have nothing to lose.  In the likes of Lallana, Lambert and Ramirez they have attacking talents who can cause us problems.

I expect the defence to be unchanged.  Laurent Koscielny is fit and raring to go, but how can you justify dropping Per Mertesacker after his start to the season?  The same could arguably be said of Vito Mannone, but the fit-again Wojciech Szczesny is sufficiently senior to the Italian to guarantee his inclusion.

I’d like to go on record and say I think our defensive excellence has been somewhat overstated in the early part of this season.  Just as us conceding ten in the first three games of last season was anomalous, the three clean sheets could be a similar statistical oddity.  It will take a longer run of consistency before I declare that Steve Bould has replaced the current back four with clones of our well-drilled mid-90s heroes.

Anyway.  In midfield, Abou Diaby’s muscle problem is almost certain to be rested ahead of sterner tests against Montpellier and Man City.  Arsene Wenger then has several options to replace him in midfield, notably Coquelin, Ramsey, or a repositioned Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (about whom he speaks with customary enthusiasm here).  My hunch is he’ll opt for Ramsey.  Coquelin’s defensive nous shouldn’t be required with Arteta in the side, whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 120 minutes for England could see him rotated to the bench.

Upfront we all expect Podolski and Giroud to make up two components of the attacking trio.  I’ve got a suspicion that the third element could be Gervinho.  Unlike many of his team-mates, the Ivorian only played one game during the international break, picking up a goal and an assist against Senegal.  Add this to his impressive pre-season displays, and I think Arsene might be tempted to throw him in.  Theo Walcott is only expected to make the bench after a bout of sickness earlier this week.

It’s the first game this season I’ll be able to attend in person, and I can’t wait.  A win would be fantastic, and a goal for Giroud the icing on the cake.  But let’s not forget, cake is pretty delicious, icing or no icing.

I want some cake.  Come on Arsenal.

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