Southampton’s 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal on Boxing Day was an incredible shock. The Gunners had come off the back of an impressive win against Manchester City, whilst Ronald Koeman’s side had been leaking goals for fun in recent weeks.
But the Saints gave Arsene Wenger’s side a bloody nose; far from being the team that made error after error against Tottenham, Liverpool or Crystal Palace, Southampton showed battling qualities.
It is difficult to ever imagine scrapping to a 4-0 win, but that is exactly what they had to do. Ronald Foeman’s game plan to press Arsenal as soon as the ball went into one of their midfielders, denying the Gunners time and space, was exactly what was needed to stop them, but the players implemented it to perfection.
Shane Long grabbed two goals, but it was Victor Wanyama who really caught the eye as his brute strength dominated the midfield and stopped Arsenal from gaining a foothold in the game. Annoyingly, it was most likely the presence of Arsene Wenger in the away touchline area that motivated him to play like that, as his season so far has been one of bare minimums.
A talented player that can really make a huge difference, just like he did against Özil, but having not been granted a transfer to Tottenham, he has simply coasted this season rather than pushing on.
His defensive midfield partner last season, Morgan Schneiderlin, is a perfect example of what can happen when players get their head down, having earned a move to Manchester United after initially wanting to join Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham revolution himself. But Wanyama is not that kind of player, and the dilemma will come when the January transfer window opens; what next?
With the Kenyan just as likely to throw his toys out of the pram as he is to go on a faultless run of form, it does make the idea of selling him more attractive, especially with his contract coming into the final year next summer. A £20 million offer could turn heads, not least Wanyama’s. The problem lies with sourcing a replacement, especially with the inflated prices in the winter window, so keeping him may be the only option.
It is frustrating that not granting him a move would harm the team’s chances of doing well, as he is a mightily important player in the squad. His incredible strength is something that no other player at the club has, especially in centre midfield where most of his teammates are nowhere near his physical prowess.
Before the game against Arsenal, plenty of supporters would have driven him to North London themselves; such was the quality of his performances this season. But the display against the Gunners demonstrated the price Saints would pay by losing him.
Part of his reasoning to move could also be the fact he was burgled last year. Not feeling safe in his home would undoubtedly affect his performances, and often leads to a move away. Yet the main reason would be to play for a bigger club. The reason of playing continental football may well be cited, after becoming a household name through big games in the Champions League for Celtic, but the offer of bigger wages will undoubtedly also play a part.
It would be an interesting situation were he to link up again with Pochettino, considering the Argentine brought him to the South Coast. The Kenyan may have suffered from injury and fitness troubles in his only season under Pochettino, but his displays under Koeman were a clear sign of what the Argentine had wanted.
Yet Tottenham may not want him. Eric Dier’s versatility has showed his quality in defensive midfield, and maybe their interest Wanyama could subsequently be cooled.
That leaves Arsenal. Wenger mentioned when he had signed Calum Chambers that one factor in his signing was how much he had impressed against Arsenal for Southampton, and Wanyama certainly did that in the 4-0 drubbing.
Arsenal were physically dominated, so to sign the chief cause of that would help them find another dimension that the Gunners have lacked for many years. Whether the Kenyan would fit their style is a question that Wenger would have to ask before making that move.
But whether it happens in the coming weeks or in the summer, it seems Wanyama’s time at St Mary’s is slowly coming to an end. A superb signing at £12 million, he made a big impact on a club finding its feet back at the top table.
Whether he will be fondly remembered is less sure. A song to the tune of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ is a popular ditty at St Mary’s, but another tantrum and the Kenyan, sadly, could join Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren in the growing band of players booed on their return to the South Coast.
If he were to leave, he would be a big miss, especially as he is said to be a popular member of the dressing room. That is something of concern; the dressing room has changed a fair bit in the last few years, and that may have more of an impact than many would think.