PREVIEW: Southampton

This international break has had the distinct feeling of a colonoscopy: there was the typical dreading of the 2 week-long event; the horrible experience of it actually happening; followed of course by the tortuous wait for the results to come in, specifically with regards to injuries to our, very often, overly fragile players.

Well I’m pleased to report that the results were surprisingly positive, meaning that the expected injuries didn’t happen to materialise. Whilst Diaby may well need a games rest after beginning the season in full throttle, both internationally and domestically, we seem to be in good shape after two more annoyingly timed international matches.

Thus far we have matched the three international fixtures with three domestic fixtures, following on from a summer which began with European internationals and culminated with worldwide internationals played in our very own country. If those internationals weren’t enough internationals for the most die-hard international fanatic then I don’t what is, short of living your life as England boss on a permanent basis through the magic of Football Manager…many a month has been wasted in such a manner.

The Friday night beers are kicking in, so if you aren’t awfully averse to the idea I’ll move swiftly on to the business of team news, before I drift into “station missing” slumber and do just that. If I had asked you to name a player that would come back the slightest bit crocked, I would have bet money that you would have bet money on me putting some money on Abou Diaby, a player who has completed more minutes in the three games this season than he did all last campaign. Following on from his imperious game against Liverpool, he went on to secure his country’s victory by netting the only goal in their 1-0 victory. Such service comes at a price naturally though, and his involvement seems unlikely this weekend, if only because of precautionary measures. Looking at the glass half full we can’t really complain too much and for a player that’s been out for so long it may be a blessing in disguise that we have to rest him for this weekend. I’m sure that Diaby is constantly lingering around the fabled Red Zone that we were terrified Van Persie would reach last year, and we ought to not have too many concerns resting him at home against Southampton.

However, this now makes for an interesting midfield conundrum for the manager. If Rosicky or Wilshere had been fit, I’d have no doubt that they would end up slotting into the starting line-up this week. As it is, they will be keeping the likes of Sagna and company company this weekend, so as far as I can see the manager can either slot in Oxlaide or call Ramsey up to the fold. Bringing in Oxlaide would constitute removing him from our wide midfield options, probably meaning a recall for Walcott or Gervinho to the line-up. Bringing in Ramsey would allow for The Ox to remain on the flanks where he has started every game this season for Arsenal and England. After Gervinho’s pixelated goal last week, which may or may not have been world class (I couldn’t really see it), I’d probably rather see him start the game with Oxlaide in the middle. He brings the same level of on ball speed to our offense that Walcott does, and has a considerably more capacious locker of skills and dropped shoulders than Theo does. After watching Oxlaide play out wide for England I think that he can become isolated for large periods of the game, and the more he picks up the ball the better it is for whichever team he is representing.

Therefore I would select a starting line up along the lines of:

Szcz, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlaide, Cazorla, Podolski, Gervinho, Giroud.

High fives must be dispensed in the direction of Vito Mannone for two clean sheets in successive starts, and high tens may be extended for assured performances whenever he was called upon to make a save or intercept a cross. I’ll confess that I approached the first game that he started this season with a certain amount of trepidation, after a couple of preseason fumbles. Yet however well he has performed I think that our number one keeper is quite clearly Szcz, and I can’t envisage the manager keeping a fit Szcz out of the line-up after injury alone prevented him from starting the last two games. It’s not as if Szcz had been injured for the whole season and Mannone had represented us for the entire campaign. It seems that the Pole may well be recovered enough to feature on Saturday, and as long as he is healthy I can’t see anyone else between the pegs but him.

Giroud is an interesting one, in as far as years of good performances and goals combined with extensive scouting reports apparently count for nothing if you don’t score in your first 2 starts in the Premier League. I could tell you that both Henry and Bergkamp scored their first goals against the Saints but I’m not a superstitious man. However Gemini is rising in the eclipse of Venus’ lunar belchings, so if that doesn’t convince you to put on a bet I don’t know what will. On a serious note though, this is the exact kind of time when we as a fan base need to remain 100% behind him and give him the time he needs to settle into the league. His movement’s fantastic, he just needs to find his shooting boots and we’ll all be laughing. 

Aside from that I think the rest of the team selects itself at the moment, especially if Diaby is too injured to feature in the starting line-up. The hops that I’ve consumed are really weighing down my eyelids, so I must leave it there.

All the best.



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