- This fixture last season: Arsenal 0-0 Southampton
- Gunners squad complete with big-money signings
- Saints seeking first win of 2016-17 season
Arsene Wenger finally caved and opened up the Arsenal checkbook in the final days of the summer transfer window, spending $69 million on two players to improve what was an alarmingly thin first-team squad. Now it’s up to the duo — 24-year-old defender Shkrodan Mustafi and 27-year-old striker Lucas Perez — to prove their worth push the Gunners over the top and back into the Premier League title conversation. In other words, no pressure, gentlemen.
Mustafi and Perez could be handed PL debuts when Southampton visit Emirates Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Their arrivals are most timely, with Arsenal a disappointing 1-1-1 three games into the season, which sees them sit eighth in the league table, already five points off the pace of joint-leaders Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. With Saints winless in three games under new manager Claude Puel, it’s three points or bust for Wenger and Co.
Puel, who played for Wenger while at Monaco in the 80s and 90s, has attempted to implement a new system — 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield — at St. Mary’s Stadium this season, and it’s not yet produced the kind of goalscoring threat he would have hoped (just two goals scored through three games), but has provided plenty of possession (57.8 percent — third-most in the PL) upon which to build.
The capture of Saints’ new club-record signing ($21 million), Moroccan winger Sofiane Bufal, was announced not long before transfer deadline day, but Puel has since said a slight knee injury could mean the 22-year-old is still a month away from making his PL debut. Following the departure of Sadio Mane in the summer, it’s no wonder Saints are currently experiencing a shortage of scoring chances.
What they’re saying
Wenger, on his side’s newfound maturity: “I would say it’s the most mature squad I’ve had for a long time, because they are men. They are not 19 or 20 years old, they are 24, 27, 28, and the whole squad is quite mature. It’s the first time for a long time that I’ve had a team of what you can call men, ready to compete. After, we have to show that we are good enough to beat everybody else.”
Puel, on Wenger’s critics: “Arsene was my trainer during seven years at Monaco and it will be a pleasure to see him on the other bench. He was a very important person for me and he’s a great manager. People don’t sometimes realize how good his work with Arsenal has been, and I really think he is a good example for all the other trainers.
Wenger’s right: this is a tougher, harder Arsenal team than in recent years. The way they bounced back from an opening day defeat to Liverpool to win four points in the next two games was a perfect example. Of course it’ll take a bit of time for the new signings to settle in and hit top form, but that’s even more true for Southampton. Arsenal win this one, 2-0.