How sustainable is Hasenhuttl's system? Some flaws may be starting to show
Walcott nets against his former club to put the Saints ahead at the Emirates (Photo by Peter Cziborra-Pool/Getty Images)

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Southampton and Arsenal were forced to share the spoils in a tightly contested draw. The former Arsenal prospect, Theo Walcott came back to haunt the Gunners with an early strike to put the visitors ahead. Mikel Arteta’s side had a response of their own, however, early in the second half through their talisman, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

The North London club faced disciplinary issues as Gabriel Magalhães saw red after committing a second bookable offence on Walcott, further adding to their woes. This is becoming an all too regular occurrence for Mikel Arteta’s side, with Gabriel becoming the seventh player to be sent off during the young manager’s tenure, more than any other team in the Premier League

Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side were left disappointed after only coming away with a point despite having a man advantage for 30 minutes. Saints seemed to have fallen back into their old habits, showcasing a lack of penetration and urgency in front of goal. This came as a surprise to the Southampton faithful as they have so often found a way to find a goal when the opposition opts to put 11 men behind the ball. 

Form coming into the game favoured the Saints but history said otherwise. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 26 home games against Southampton (W18, D8) since a 0-1 loss in November 1987. Records are made to be broken, but Hasenhuttl’s men couldn’t find a way to inflict another loss towards the struggling North London club. 

Lacklustre Saints

Southampton would’ve had their tails up coming into the game in exceptional form, losing only one game in their last ten prior to Wednesday night. Hasenhuttl has reinstalled belief into each player at the club during his tenure and has got his side playing scintillating football this season. The Austrian manager has extremely high demands from his players, integral in making the system flourish. Everyone within the club is buying into Hasenhuttl’s philosophy and reaping the benefits this campaign. The high intensity and press has often caused the opposition’s defence numerous problems, allowing Saints to win the ball back high up the pitch and create opportunities whilst the gaps are there to be exploited. 

The consequences of the manager’s high demands looked like it had caught up with Hasenhuttl’s side on Wednesday night. An out of character performance asked many questions about the sustainability of the system and high intensity, especially throughout a busy festive set of fixtures. Southampton had no cutting edge in the final third, unable to break the resistant 10 men behind the ball. 

For the first time this season, it seemed as if Southampton had run out of ideas showcasing a Claude Puel esque style of football which the Southampton faithful won’t have fond memories of. Despite having 65% of possession the ever so reliant front line lacked energy, ideas and tempo. The movement seemed all too reactionary with an inadequate amount of risks being made. Hasenhuttl stated to the press after the game that his team lacked risks to break the Arsenal defence:

“Today is about how much risk you want to take to make for the second goal. We had the chance with Reddy’s shot on the bar. It’s always dangerous to take too much risk at that moment. You have to be careful. That’s why we chose not to take too much risk”

This begs the question, what were the reasons behind Southampton’s leggy display after truly being a joy to watch so far this campaign. 

It has almost been impossible to critique Hasenhuttl’s flourishing four triple two system but some flaws have started to show. The high intensive press requires incredible fitness throughout the 90 minutes and playing with the same intensity three times a week simply isn’t sustainable. This stood out against Arsenal after many players looked incredibly leggy, the likes of Stuart Armstrong who has been integral to the side fell victim to sloppy passes throughout the match. Southampton skipper James Ward-Prowse covered the most ground out of any player in the Premier League last season, reiterating the fitness required to fit Hasenhuttl’s system and to meet his demands. 

Coupled with the lack of depth Hasenhuttl possesses within the squad, it creates more problems regarding the rotation of the starting 11. Six of the starting 11 have started every single game this season, proving to be the downfall of Southampton’s display. Hasenhuttl doesn’t have the luxury of having an array of great quality in every position at his disposal compared to the teams around him in the table which gives the Saints a real disadvantage in the long term. With Manchester City up next, Hasenhuttl will be forced to take key players out purely due to tiredness and hope for new signings such as Mohammed Salisu and Ibrahima Diallo to grasp their opportunity with both hands. 

Theo Walcott rolls back the years

It seemed like it was just meant to be for the former Arsenal man, Theo Walcott. The Emirates came as a familiar hunting ground for Southampton’s winger with only Robin Van Persie (46) and Olivier Giroud (40) scoring more goals at the Emirates. Walcott stood head and shoulders above everyone else, especially in the first half with his darting runs in behind the fragile Arsenal backline. The number 32 gained his reward after expertly chipping the ball above the onrushing Bernd Leno to give the Saints a deserved lead, registering his second goal of the season. Walcott proved to be a further nuisance to Arteta’s side after instigating the red card for Gabriel after a smart turn past the defender. 

With the return of Southampton’s talisman, Danny Ings, Walcott has been moulded back into his preferred position out wide. Walcott seems to have rekindled some form and has his mojo back, beating full-backs with ease and adding that extra bit of experience needed up top to complete a brilliant front line.

Questions were asked of whether Walcott was the right purchase considering his age and lack of game time in recent seasons but to the surprise of Southampton supporters, Walcott has answered them in style netting twice and assisting three times already this season. He has simply has been a revelation even at the age of 31. Walcott has shown so far that he still has plenty to offer to his side and will be looking to add to his goal tally in the coming games. Hasenhuttl has stated the influence Walcott has had on the team thus far and hasn’t been short of praise:

“He is a fantastic signing. Footballers are getting younger and younger but the older ones who want to be professional can still help you and I am very happy he is here”