MATCH PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS SOUTHAMPTON

Arsenal failed to beat the Saints in the last campaign, losing 4-0 away and being part of a goalless draw at home. New Southampton manager Claude Puel stands in the way of victory and is keen to face up against Arsene Wenger, the man who managed him at Monaco.

Coming away from Vicarage Road with a 3-1 win under their belts would have filled the squad with confidence that their first half performance duly merited. Meanwhile Southampton are yet to pick up a league win although their start has been steady.

New signings have boosted both teams with Mustafi and Perez likely to make their Arsenal debuts at the Emirates on the weekend. The well-travelled defender could come in from the start, albeit in place of Rob Holding who’s adaptation to life in the Premier League has been startling. The intelligent minded Lucas Perez is also likely to feature although with stacked options in attack he may spend time amongst the substitutes.
Southampton are not short attacking wise either, bolstered by the signing of Sofiane Boufal and deciding to hold on to Jay Rodriguez. Nathan Redmond has settled quickly and could cause problems on the counter attack for the away side. The pace of Redmond and Long will be a hinderance all afternoon with Southampton possessing the likes of Tadic and Hojbjerg who are more than capable of finding the breakthrough pass.

The Southampton midfield will be compact and the defence organised however with the right mixture of patience and explosiveness Arsenal can overcome their visitors and notch more points on the table.

Predicted Line-up: Petr Čech; Héctor Béllerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla; Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez; Olivier Giroud.

WHO IS SHKODRAN MUSTAFI?

With Wenger looking for experience and value, Mustafi is a near perfect option. Half a century of Serie A appearances for Sampdoria saw him gain a move to Spain, Valencia picking up the German international for a bargain price; a rumoured €8m. His quickly put together partnership with Nicolas Otamendi sought plaudits from those watching on, Mustafi even a slight bright spark in what was a dim past season for the Valencian club.

The 24-year-old is mature in his decision making, trusted by his club and international coaches. His relaxed nature allows him to deal with pressure, keeping his head and passing confidently from the back. Using his intelligence, Mustafi is rarely out of position or late to the tackle. The German asserts a sense of authoritative calm on the field and is well rounded in his qualities, capable of performing a number of tasks in a number of roles.

Despite his moderate age Mustafi has a vast footballing education and a wealth of experience. His youth experiences in Germany and in England, with Everton, helped him develop a combative spirit whilst spells in Italy and Spain have refined his intelligence and passing abilities.

Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – JULY 13: Mesut Oezil of Germany holds the World Cup trophy while celebrating with teammates Kevin Grosskreutz, Roman Weidenfeller, Matthias Ginter, Shkodran Mustafi and Erik Durm of Germany after defeating Argentina 1-0 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Marco Reus’ misfortune was Mustafi’s advantage, taking the forwards place in the Germany squad for the 2014 World Cup. Subbed in twice in central defence, Mustafi coped extremely well and was even trusted to play right-back in the round of 16 but was unfortunate as injury cut his tournament short. Two years later he started against Ukraine in EURO 2016, heading home the opener for his country.

With a shortage of senior central defenders in the squad, Arsenal have struck gold. The combination of experience, utility and calmness makes Shkodran Mustafi’s transfer a no-brainer for Arsene Wenger and his men. Mustafi would look to consolidate his place in central defence but his dependability at right back would have been looked at and appreciated.

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BLOG: MOHAMED ELNENY – IMPACT

Arsenal from January onwards was rife with disappointment and the new year brought with it a sense of underwhelming. The signing of Mohamed Elneny hardly captured imaginations for many and did little to immediately appease the disgruntled.

The Egyptian international took it all in his stride, the club so assured of his capabilities. Assurance is what Elneny brings, effectively bringing the ball forward and safely moving it about. His affect on the club was instant and composed. Elneny made his debut in late January but was quick to settle. His immediate influence saw him pick up Arsenal’s Player of the Month award for both March and April.

Bringing with him a sense of security he helped Arsenal to solidify their team play as the season drew to a close. On the ball the midfielder helps the team tick, mixing simplicity and calmness with energy and dependability. The 24-year-old seems to always be available, either for selection or on the pitch. Finding space so effectively and using the ball in the same way.

Elneny’s energy and pressing is just as impressive and set the tempo for Arsenal’s play in pre-season. A good passing range, supreme stamina and a willingness to put the collective above himself has seen Elneny become a vital member of the squad and with the arrival of Granit Xhaka he could be seen more in a box-to-box role.

Much like Borussia Monchengladbach’s setup last season, Xhaka could sit the deeper of the two with Elneny just in front. The Swiss midfielder controlling the game and switching the play whilst Elneny, the more mobile player, helps Arsenal to press and bring the ball forward.

Elneny will be hoping to maintain his consistent impact for Arsenal in the coming season, his first full season at the club. In five months the Egyptian settled, broke Premier League passing records and developed into a well-rounded squad member. Mohamed Elneny’s early Arsenal career is an admirable base to build upon as the new season looms.

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MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL VS LIVERPOOL

The first whistle of Arsenal’s season was to be blown at the Emirates as Klopp’s attack minded Liverpool came to town. Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Mane, Lallana and Firmino all started and were up against a weakened Arsenal defence. The defensive partnership of Chambers and Holding for the home side was to be severely tested, Elneny and Coquelin forming a mobile shield ahead of them whilst Granit Xhaka settled on the substitutes bench.

Both outfits started on the front foot, Arsenal progressing well down both flanks whilst Liverpool looked to exploit space left behind the Arsenal defence. Aaron Ramsey, playing in behind Sanchez, looked threatening in the opening stages as did Sadio Mane using his pace for the away side.

Pace was to be the problem as both sides pushed for the opener. Theo Walcott twice exposed the rashness of Alberto Moreno in quick succession. Scythed down by the Spaniard in the box, he stepped up to the spot himself. His weak penalty was saved by the palms of Mignolet but just 68 seconds later the outcome was to be different. The ball was won quickly in midfield before Iwobi slid in Walcott whose first touch set up the angle and whose second stroked the ball home to the far corner.

Liverpool tried immediately to up the pressure, dominating possession but struggling to create any real chances. Coquelin and Elneny stuck close to eachother, forming a tight unit with the two young central defenders. However, as two minutes added time was signalled, Rob Holding pulled down Coutinho just outside the area. A dangerous free kick, the talented Brazilian stepped up himself and hit the top corner with incredible technique. Just before the break Liverpool had found a response.

The confidence of the away side was on the up. The second half bringing with it a quick second goal for the visitors. Coutinho was found in space by Firmino, the Brazilian flicked the ball through to Wijnaldum whose dinked cross was chested down by Lallana who finished with control under the body of Cech. Klopp pumped his fists as Wenger was left shaking his head.

Liverpool were beginning to pile on the sort of pressure many expected them to in the first half. Their ambition became greater and passing more quick and precise. Space in the Arsenal half was getting exploited by the quick movement of Liverpool’s attacking players and it wasn’t long before another goal came their way. Clyne was set free down the right after more impressive link play and his drilled cross was superbly turned in for Coutinho’s second.

Defending all at sea and with confidence knocked Liverpool kept coming, looking potent at every turn. Both managers were left stunned, power and pace taking Mane past Monreal and Chambers before the ball hit the top corner of Cech’s net once again.

Arsenal fans had their heads slightly lifted as the fresh legged Chamberlain replicated the individual brilliance of Mane just moments later. A comeback was improbable but just ten minutes later a third goal arrived. Chamberlain was involved again, drawing a foul from Clyne. Cazorla had the responsibility of the set piece and his inswinging freekick was flicked on by Calum Chambers and evaded Mignolet’s reach.

The tempo of the game was unrelenting and home fans had some hope in their voices. The minutes kept ticking but Liverpool had no problems in keeping out Arsenal whose attacks had started to build. Injuries to Iwobi and Ramsey compounded a miserable opening day for Arsenal and as the final whistle blew it was met by a chorus of boos.

MATCH PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS MAN CITY

The last of Arsenal’s preseason games poses the toughest and most intriguing test yet. Sunday evening in Gothenburg will see Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola sit in opposing dugouts, the last test for both squads a Premier League clash to savour.
Friday’s eight goal haul against Viking FK will have boosted confidence; goals and fitness are always appreciated during preparations. However describing the Norwegian side as opposition would be an exaggeration, not pressing Arsenal or causing the defensive structure any problems. With a league fixture on Sunday it is no wonder they exerted little energy but the impressive Arsenal performance will no doubt be a boost.
Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey are set to feature at least a small part in Scandinavia, included in the squad in a bid to be ready for the Premier League opener. As most were tested, others were rested in Norway. Granit Xhaka spent the ninety minutes sat on the bench whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gabriel were substituted at half time suggesting they will play an important role against Manchester City. Wenger will be looking to solidify his lineup for the League opener against Liverpool, including Gabriel in this Scandinavian section of preseason and perhaps prioritising the fitness of those he views as influencers on the squad in the forthcoming weeks.
Manchester City are still in the early adaptation stages of Pep Guardiola’s tenure and have not played a friendly match since the 28th July. Guardiola will want his players to execute what they have worked on meticulously in training against a close Premier League rival. A squad including Young defenders, new signings and the familiar face of Mikel Arteta amongst the coaching staff will represent City in Sweden.
This match will provide a great opportunity to test fitness, refine tactics and conclude preparations for what looks to be one of the most exciting Premier League seasons to date.