Arsenal

Arsenal predicted XI vs Southampton as Nketiah starts but Pepe misses out again

It’s pretty concerning how quickly Arsenal’s confidence has seemingly evaporated.

Just a few weeks ago the Gunners were a team who stood tall against some of the Premier League trickiest challenges, but now they look petrified by their opposition.

Underwhelming display in defeats to Manchester United and Everton – both of which were eminently winnable games – have only served to embolden this mindset among the club’s fanbase, and speaking at his press conference ahead of Saturday’s match against Southampton, Mikel Arteta admitted that frustration over the past two results has permeated his squad as well.

“I think we deserved much more against Manchester United, if not a win then at least a draw,” said the Spaniard. “Then against Everton we had periods where we punished ourselves and I don’t think we deserved to lose either.

“That’s the thing, we need to increase the level of those performances and when we have those performances during matches, we need to win the matches and close the games down.”

An inability to hold on to leads when in seemingly favourable positions has been a real problem for the Gunners, but in this weekend’s opponents, they face specialists in throwing winning situations away.

Since Ralph Hassenhuttl took charge at Southampton in 2018, his side have dropped 71 points in games where they’ve been ahead. This would seem to make them perfect opponents for Arsenal as they seek to bounce back.

Arteta will be able to call upon the now twice player of the month Aaron Ramsdale, whose influence in playing out from the back -which has diminished in recent matches – will be key if the Gunners are to exploit the opportunities Saints’ high press presents.

The same goes for Benjamin White, who looked low on confidence at Goodison Park, while Gabriel will want to continue his progression in this area of his game.

To the right of the centre backs, Takehiro Tomiyasu will start most likely sporting a scar on his face from a challenge that Ben Godfrey was somehow not sent off for, but over on the left, there is slightly more debate.

Kieran Tierney was restored to the starting XI on Monday, but was then taken off after just an hour in favour of Nuno Tavares.

Given that the Scotland international had assisted Martin Odegaard’s goal you feel as though the decision was probably fitness based which would seem to indicate that Tierney was being saved to start this match as well.

In midfield, Granit Xhaka was able to make an unexpected return at Goodison Park, way ahead of schedule. Unsurprisingly though he tired in his first game back after an injury layoff that was supposed to keep him sidelined until the New Year.

Regardless of his fitness levels, the Swiss international is a physical machine who seems to play 90 minutes in every one of Arteta’s matches come rain or shine.

Alongside Xhaka will be Thomas Partey who, despite his poor form, will surely get a chance to redeem himself against Southampton.

However, waiting in the wings will be Albert Sambi Lokonga, who can count himself thoroughly unlucky to not have featured at all in the past two matches following an impressive run in the team during Xhaka’s absence.

Despite taking a kicking and a half from the Everton players on Monday, Bukayo Saka will probably be ready to start on the right, while positive news over the fitness of Emile Smith Rowe seems to dictate that he will begin the game on the left.

It’s difficult to see Martin Odegaard getting dropped after another goal at Goodison Park, which leaves one position left in the side with plenty of candidates.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s reported absence from training on Friday means that he is a doubt for this game so it would seem that the centre forward position is very much up for grabs.

Alexandre Lacazette surely cannot be rewarded with a start after what was an abysmal display at Goodison Park, which was admittedly not helped by the rest of the team.

So that would leave Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah as the main options to choose from.

Martinelli has done himself no harm by performing well in both of his recent starts against Manchester United and Everton, but these have both been on the wing.

In games last season where a decision had to be made between the pair, it was Nketiah who Arteta went for up front and after such a strong and public charm offensive history could repeat itself.

There is of course the option of playing Nicolas Pepe as a striker where began his time with Lille, but given that the Ivorian has seemingly become persona non grata at the Emirates, it’s difficult to really see him being involved at all .

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