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Talking Tactics

Unbeaten Armstrong can find Saints' winning formula

Adrian Clarke 9 Jan 2022
Stuart Armstrong_TT

Adrian Clarke says fit-again Scot has not lost in any competition this season ahead of facing Brentford

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 21.

Stuart Armstrong

The return of Stuart Armstrong to full match fitness has potential to help Southampton challenge for a top-half finish this season.

SOU 4-1 BRE
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The 29-year-old is not regarded as a "star" name at St Mary’s Stadium, but he is understatedly influential for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.

Linking the midfield and attack with his quality on the ball, smart movement and intelligent decision making, Saints' results have been significantly better with Armstrong in the side.

Now he has recovered from a calf injury, Southampton look better equipped to turn more draws - they have had nine this season - into victories, potentially starting with a three-point haul at home to Brentford.

Armstrong's impact on Saints
  With Armstrong Without Armstrong
Matches 69 26
Win 29 2
Draws 13 10
Losses 27 14
Ave goals for 1.4 0.9
Ave goals against 1.6 1.9
Win % 42% 7.7%
Points/match 1.4 0.6

The last time Southampton won a Premier League match without Armstrong playing any part was a 2-1 success against Norwich City in December 2019.

Since the start of 2019/20 Saints have a win ratio of just 7.7 per cent in his absence, earning a measly 0.6 points per match. When the Scot is available to start, Southampton have won 42 per cent of their matches, a remarkable difference.

The midfielder, who has started their last two matches, is also unbeaten in nine appearances for club and country so far this season.

Armstrong's best moments for Saints

Why are Southampton more formidable with Armstrong in the side? 

The answer is not immediately obvious because, in essence, he is a neat and tidy wide man who usually contributes between five and 10 direct goal contributions a season.

Statistically Southampton attempt around the same number of shots with or without him, and the same applies to the number of shots they face on average, too.

What makes the difference is Armstrong’s ability to knit the side together via his footballing intelligence, excellent movement, and sound decision-making.

He is able to play wide right or in a narrower box-to-box midfield berth and is full of running.

He has covered more ground on average than any Southampton team-mate this season at 11.9km per 90 minutes thanks to his good energy levels and a willingness to test his direct opponents physically.

Most distance covered (SOU) 
2021/22 Distance/90 (km)
Stuart Armstrong 11.9
Mohamed Elyounoussi 11.7
James Ward-Prowse 11.6
Ibrahima Diallo 11.0
Oriol Romeu 11.0

Armstrong is powerful rather than quick, and was Southampton’s best dribbler last season, averaging 2.21 completed take-ons per 90 minutes.

This season, albeit from only 213 minutes of Premier League action, Armstrong is Saints' most creative player.

His bursts down the right channel to tee up opportunities, while also providing diligent off-the-ball work, adds great balance for Hasenhuttl.

Most open-play chances created (SOU)
2021/22 Chances/90 
Stuart Armstrong 2.53
Nathan Redmond 1.58
Moussa Djenepo 1.26
Ibrahima Diallo 1.22
Che Adams 1.14

When you look across most of the other key individual metrics, Armstrong is not a player who stands out above his team-mates.

His versatility marks him out, but to Hasenhuttl his true value is as somebody he can rely on to make consistently good decisions in and out of possession.

He is a player who understands the feel of a game which has a positive impact on the players around him.

Across a long spell of matches it is proven Southampton are a better, more-rounded team when Armstrong is available for selection.

He can be one of their key men for the rest of the season.

Also in this series

Part 2: Lanzini form giving West Ham fresh impetus

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