Tactical Watch: Fast starts key to Gunners' success


Tactics writer Sam Tighe looks ahead to Southampton's trip to face Premier League leaders Arsenal in a game of major significance at both ends of the table.

What kind of Arsenal team should Southampton expect to face on Friday?

One hell-bent on getting their title chase back on track, in all likelihood. After dropping consecutive 2-0 leads against Liverpool and West Ham, therefore yielding just two points instead of six, the pressure is now really on at the top.

They face Manchester City next Wednesday in a game which will go a long way to determining who the favourite is for the Premier League trophy in May. Mikel Arteta will see it as imperative that the Gunners get back to winning ways ahead of that game.

As a result, it would not surprise to see a thunderous start from Arsenal. They’ve won their last four at home and the Emirates is a lively, supportive place nowadays.

Which particular threats must Saints prepare for?

Arsenal average the second-most possession per game in the league (57.7%), so Rubén Sellés will be preparing his squad for an evening playing mostly without the ball. Martin Ødegaard dictates the rhythm and timing of his team’s possession play and he’s tough to stop.

Arteta asks his left-back (usually Oleksandr Zinchenko) to tuck into midfield to create numerical superiority in the centre, leaving Gabriel Martinelli wide left with a 1v1 opportunity. On the other flank, Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka and Benjamin White combine superbly in the final third to create openings.

After missing a crucial penalty on Sunday against West Ham, Saka will have fire in his belly as he attempts to help Arsenal back on track.

How can Saints upset the league leaders on Friday?

The starting point is defensive structure and concentration; Saints must be ready to combat long spells without the ball, situated in their own third. It’s tough work and it gets harder the longer the game goes on.

Arsenal space five attackers out evenly across the width of the pitch, with Ødegaard in the right halfspace (inside channel), in an attempt to stretch teams and create lanes to feed balls into. His combination work and reverse passes in those areas have caused chaos all season.

When the time is right, Saints must be brave enough to push out and apply pressure to Arsenal. Take the lead from West Ham last week, when Declan Rice dispossessed Thomas Partey and drove forward, winning a penalty.

As strong as Arsenal have been, it’s imperative to remember that they’re at their lowest point confidence-wise all season. Even if they take the lead, recent evidence suggests there might be some fragilities to prey on.

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Ramsdale; White, Holding, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Ødegaard, Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Jesus, Martinelli.

-William Saliba is back in training, but having not played for a month, he may not be risked
-Zinchenko missed the draw with West Ham but looks okay to return at left-back
-If Arteta does want to freshen it up, Leandro Trossard and Jorginho are prime candidates to step in.