Tactical Watch: Saints target Arsenal repeat

By SFC Media time Thu 21 Feb Arsenal v Saints
Photo by Chris Moorhouse | Charlie Austin

Ahead of Sunday's trip to the Emirates Stadium, Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe studies what worked so well for Southampton in the 3-2 victory over Arsenal in Ralph Hasenhüttl's first home game in charge...

On 16th December 2018, Southampton managed what no other team had in four months: beat Arsenal in a game of football.

The 3-2 victory that marked Ralph Hasenhüttl’s home debut also ended the 22-game unbeaten streak the Gunners were on, making victory all the sweeter that day.

This weekend Southampton travel north to face that same opponent and attempt to do the double over them this season.

Saints have grown as a team since December, while Arsenal have hit the rocks a little, but this match remains one of the most difficult on the fixture calendar and will require all of Hasenhüttl’s cunning to win.

He’d do well to look back at that performance in the 3-2 win and apply some of the same concepts that were successful to this match plan…

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (right) during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Arsenal FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 16, 2018 in Southampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Bridle - Southampton FC/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Saints were quick to close down Arsenal's players in the reverse fixture

Pressing unsettles Arsenal

Southampton and Arsenal went toe-to-toe formation-wise back in December, each fielding a 3-4-3 formation. The approaches differed though; while the visitors were more reserved in their defensive outlook, the hosts pressed maniacally.

Laurent Koscielny, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Granit Xhaka – all three of which could well feature on Sunday – struggled with the immense energy the likes of Nathan Redmond and Danny Ings offered. 

They harried, forced mistakes and unsettled them to the point where they began conceding.

With 15 days between games, Southampton have recharged, been away to Tenerife to enjoy warm weather training and been able to focus fully on this match. 

Arsenal, on the other hand, play BATE Borisov on Thursday and have just two days’ preparation available for this fixture. 

Expect Hasenhüttl to dial up the pressure and try to catch a tired team between plans.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Danny Ings scores (Left) during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Arsenal FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 16, 2018 in Southampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Bridle - Southampton FC/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Danny Ings profited from some excellent crossing with two headed goals at St Mary's

Exploit the width again

Southampton’s three goals in December came from three crosses. 

Matt Targett, Nathan Redmond and Shane Long turned provider for Danny Ings (twice) and Charlie Austin, as Arsenal’s rough defensive positioning hurt them time and time again.

Saints moved the ball in a very deliberate fashion, centrally between the defence and midfield while waiting for the wing-backs to creep into high positions, then feeding them with a ball to run on to and either cross or dribble with. 

Matt Targett’s delivery for the first goal was particularly sweet, but dangerous crosses were swung in all game.

Arsenal won’t be as weak at centre-back this time around; Koscielny isn’t rusty, Xhaka won’t be forced into emergency duty and Unai Emery stands a good chance of being able to field three actual centre-backs at centre-back.

But Hector Bellerin’s season-ending injury has created a fresh weakness on the right, and no matter who is deployed there – be it Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Lichtsteiner or someone else entirely – this is a matchup Saints’ left-sided corps can be confident of winning (again) and achieving success from.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Nathan Redmond of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Arsenal FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 15, 2018 in Southampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Redmond's ability to attract defenders often frees up space for his teammates

Redmond primed for another stormer?

Redmond’s assist for Ings against Arsenal back in December was, remarkably, his first of the campaign. 

It’s not as if he just suddenly started playing well – he’d been creating chances liberally in the preceding games – but that day it all just suddenly... clicked.

Key to this breakout performance was the role Hasenhüttl opted to deploy him in: nominally as a right forward in a 3-4-3, but with absolute freedom to venture inside and drop deep to build play. 

He utilised the spaces between Arsenal’s midfield two and between the midfield and defensive lines brilliantly that day, dropping into pockets and causing chaos. 

His cross for Ings’s header was from an oddly narrow position, he had three away shirts boxing him in, but he still clipped in a perfect ball.

Since then he’s grown and grown. Confidence on the ball has led to increased dribbling and shooting, and he’s scored six goals during Hasenhüttl’s short reign so far, often taking aim from outside the box to good effect.

Redmond was a difference-maker against Arsenal the first time around and comes into this fixture looking even better. Can he be key once again?

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