I probably don’t need to tell you what happened the last time we played Southampton in this competition. What did surprise me however was to discover that the match took place more than two years ago. I believe this is a common problem as one gets older, the memory plays tricks and our understanding of time contracts and stretches in an alarming fashion. This probably explains how I can still name the first eleven from 1970 / 71 season without breaking sweat but struggle to recall what the hell has happened to Yaya Sanogo.
Talking of Yaya we could well do with someone of his stature in the squad right now especially in light of Olivier Giroud’s injury. There is, for an old fashioned chap like me, nothing so comforting as seeing a couple of big handy blokes on the pitch. Silly and counter intuitive when you look at the diminutive stature of some of the world’s greatest ever players, but it’s there nonetheless.
It probably has something to do with the traditional significance of set piece goals in the English game. We all feel vulnerable when the opposition has a corner and so there is solace in the presence of a hefty header of the ball in our area, especially if he’s the kind of chap who is equally dangerous up the other end.
This is in all likelihood one of the reasons many of us felt a little more secure with our no nonsense makeshift right back on Sunday. After coming on for the desperately unfortunate Matt Debuchy, Gabriel didn’t do much wrong to my eyes and he brought us extra threat and extra protection. It was however his nifty footwork and crisp passing which surprised a few of the Arsenal faithful and I for one would be happy to see him there in future – assuming Jenks recovery is being handled with care. Having said all that he must be favourite to start at centre back tonight given the partnership he has formed with Noddy Holding during this year’s League Cup campaign.
At the weekend I took the bold and brash step of predicting victory in my pre-match ramble. I did so because I’m always honest with you about how I feel before a game. You may not be overly surprised to learn that I’m not experiencing quite the same confidence in the result this evening. Not that we can’t beat Southampton, of course we can. We’ve done it before and can do so again. The problem lies with the make up of the sides.
Their first team is in fine fettle right now. Organised at the back, slick in midfield and with some sharp players up front. If they field a strong team and we put out a patchwork quilt of youth teamers and second choice first teamers there is no question that they should be favourites.
Given the strength of our first team squad we can of course start with a pretty strong eleven and still rest a few of our tip top best quality star turns. The problem is that they won’t have put in much time together on the pitch and so much will depend on how quickly they settle on the night.
All of that notwithstanding I’m still excited about the match. This is a competition in which it doesn’t sting as much to lose but is still great fun to win. While no one wants to lose any game and naturally we want the second string players to progress as far as possible thus gaining valuable match sharpness for when they are called upon to take part in the more heavyweight matches, going out has never been the end of the world. Except perhaps when we lost in the final that last time. I must confess that one did smart a bit.
A glance at the form table shows the Saints only winning one from their last five games. This may be a little deceptive as their previous two matches saw them gain a creditable draw with over achieving Jurgen Klopp’s Flying Circus™ and beat an Everton side which had until then been doing rather well. As we all know league and cup form are seldom related so apart from padding I’m not sure what I hoped to achieve with this paragraph.
According to the club website the game isn’t being televised so many of you will be listening on Arsenal Player which will be an interesting experience for you. Others will no doubt discover the delight of the foreign stream. If you’ve followed my advice and installed the Sopcast Player then the Russian and Spanish streams tend to be the best quality and the most stable but there are good Android links available too so if you have a tablet check out social media just before the game and you should be fine.
If you’re at the ground then I suppose none of that has any relevance but I mention it in the spirit of public service. So here’s to a victory, progression to the semi finals, a solid recovery for Lucas Perez and game time for the other understudies. And if anyone does happen to bump into Yaya, tell him I’m thinking of him.