Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Saints squad looks quite different today than it did just a few short months ago. Outgoing transfers haven’t affected things too much with Fraser Forster, Shane Long and Will Smallbone departing from last season’s squad although Armando Broja has also returned to parent club Chelsea following the conclusion of his loan spell on the South Coast.

Outside of Broja, who many fans had grown frustrated with, and Fraser Forster who has been replaced, the bulk of last season’s key contributors remain. But the incoming business means this is a very different group.

With just under a month left in the transfer window, Saints have made six new signings bringing in goalkeepers Gavin Bazunu and Mateusz Lis, centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap, midfielders Romeo Lavia and Joe Aribo as well as striker Sekou Mara.

Outside of Mara who only arrived at the club early last week and Lis who could still depart on loan, the new additions have made their presence felt through pre-season and each have a real shot at starting Saints’ first game of the new season at Tottenham Hotspur this Saturday.

But the unknown and untested nature of much of this squad means there are still many questions that remain. So what will Hasenhuttl’s XI be for the trip to North London?

Some places, such as James Ward-Prowse’s at the heart of the Saints midfield, are largely predetermined but throughout the week we will be looking at the key squad battles to try and decide who the 11 players are who will step out at 3PM on Saturday. For the purpose of this exercise, we will assume Hasenhuttl will utilise a form of the 3-5-2 system trialled through the entirety of pre-season.

Over the last two days, we looked at the ongoing goalkeeping battle and Hasenhuttl’s choices for his three centre-backs.

For the final segment, we’ll pick out a pair of forwards…

Daily Echo:

Nathan Tella. Joe Aribo. Che Adams. Adam Armstrong. Stuart Armstrong. Sekou Mara. Nathan Redmond. That’s a list of all the players Hasenhuttl has trialled up front through pre-season as Saints attempt to fix their blunt attack.

With Armando Broja and Shane Long departing, it’s no secret that Hasenhuttl wants to add additional firepower to his striker options despite the arrival of 20-year-old Sekou Mara. But with no other forwards through the door, the above names are the options available to the Austrian.

Tella is back training after picking up an injury during pre-season but Saturday’s clash with Spurs will come too soon for him. In reality, he probably wouldn’t have been in consideration to start.

That leaves us with six options. Mara played for the first half of the 2-1 defeat to Villarreal but Hasenhuttl doesn’t seem to feel he’s ready for the Premier League saying:

“Sekou, like all the young new players coming to us, they have to get adapted to the intensity of our game so you can see immediately,” Hasenhuttl said.

“Last season with Broja it was the same, it took him minimum three/four weeks until he knew what it was about playing up front here.

“The game doesn’t start when you get the ball, the game starts when the opponent has it. This is the thing he has to learn but it is also not surprising because this is different.”

That should rule Mara out of contention for a starting spot. Down to five. Nathan Redmond is unlikely to be a serious option after barely playing in pre-season. Four. Meanwhile, we’ve chosen Aribo to start in midfield - that squad battle can be read here - although there is a decent chance he is utilised up front. 

So, now onto our final three. The two Armstrongs and Che Adams. Two spots available. Let’s get into it…


The case for Adam Armstrong…

There’s no need to sugarcoat Armstrong’s maiden Premier League campaign on the South Coast - it was a major failure. Joining from Blackburn for a fee of around £15m, Armstrong got off to the best possible start with a debut goal against Everton. But that was as good as it got, the striker adding just one more league goal - a really well-taken strike against Aston Villa - as he was unable to replace the impact and lost goals of Danny Ings’ departure.

Armstrong only started three league games in 2022 and the end of the season saw a barrage of reports linking him with a loan move away - although it must be said that the Daily Echo has been told on multiple occasions that that has not been under serious consideration. Still, it was a reflection of the relative disaster that was his first season at St Mary’s.

But that was last season and this is an entirely new proposition. 

With limited option up front, Armstrong will get a renewed opportunity this season and that could start as early as Saturday. In general, goals were not free-flowing through pre-season as Saints managed to hit more than one in any given game only against Monaco. Twice they failed to score while netting one each in games against Leipzig and Villarreal.

Yet, despite the struggles as a team, Armstrong had a more positive than negative pre-season campaign. He found the net twice, the most of any Saints player, and actually looked confident, shooting from distance with regularity - something that was a staple of his Championship style of play but seen far less last season.

Armstrong played 65 minutes against Monaco, nothing the equaliser, while replacing Mara for the second 45 against Villarreal. There’s still a long road ahead for Armstrong to justify the fee paid last summer, but he’s looking in good shape to start Saturday’s curtain-raiser in North London.

The case for Che Adams…

If we’re going off of past record, then Adams will have to get a place in the side. While the two Armstrongs combined for just four league goals last season, Adams stepped up with seven. Okay, so it’s not the most inspiring total but it was still the most of any Saints striker.

That being said, Adams could be on the outside looking in approaching the new season. It’s clear that Hasenhuttl doesn’t fully trust any of his strikers, something that is extremely understandable considering their relatively paltry contributions last season, and it seems Adams may have slid down the pecking order.

Adams has been in and out of the team through pre-season, playing 65 minutes alongside Adam Armstrong against Monaco but not even getting on the pitch in the final warm-up clash with Villarreal. Adams strengths were apparent against Leipzig and Klagenfurt as he admirably performed the role of facilitator, helping open up opportunities for both Will Smallbone and Ibrahima Diallo.

But the limitations of Adams are also clear. Never one to give up, Adams plays the game with a lot of heart but lacks the reliable finishing this team needs. That’s particularly frustrating when they don’t create huge swathes of chances. None of these Saints attackers could really be trusted last season, but it feels that Adam Armstrong’s ceiling is higher than that of Adams. If Armstrong starts to roll, he could plunder quite a few goals. But it’s hard to see how Adams hits ten Premier League strikes having failed to do so through his first three campaigns.

A decent foil for a more clinical striker, Adams is at his best when he can focus on the team and doesn’t have to worry about his own concrete contribution. Unfortunately, as a striker and one of very few sources of goals in this team, he needs to make sure the selfish part of his game is also there. It’s hard to trust him in goalscoring positions and that - coupled with his lack of involvement against Viallrreal - leaves him on the outside looking in for Saturday.

The case for Stuart Armstrong...

Armstrong (Stu) didn’t start pre-season as a striker, but he ended it looking like one of his side’s most potent options going forward. Largely utilised as a winger in Hasenhuttl’s 4-2-2-2 system last season, Armstrong became a crucial member of the team despite injury problems limiting his starts to 15 but there’s no doubt about his importance to this team.

Against Watford, Hasenhuttl tried Armstrong in a new role as a second striker, roaming free behind Adam Armstrong. It wasn’t always perfect as the latter Arsmtrong often looked isolated up front on his own but Stuart was perhaps the most impressive Saints player on the pitch, buzzing all over the place, knitting the attacks together and finding Joe Aribo through on goal with a delightful chipped ball over the top.

Such was the success of the experiment that Hasenhuttl stuck with it for the return to St Mary’s against Monaco. His introduction - along with Ward-Prowse - changed the game and the Sottish international gave Saints the lead with a superbly taken turn-and-finish inside the box.

Speaking after the match, Hasenhuttl said:  “Yeah, I think we should bring his biggest strength and this is goalscoring. In a position where it is close as possible to the goal. So it definitely makes sense to have him as high up the pitch as possible."

Armstrong himself is enjoying the role, telling the Daily Echo after the victory against Monaco:

​​“I like it. It’s quite free and the manager lets me play off the front, whoever is playing up top in that role, I like the freedom it gives you in attacking positions, you naturally end up in attacking positions, you find yourself in the box. So I’m actually an attacking player now and I’m really enjoying it.”

Armstrong has the work-rate to cause any defence problems while his dribbling and quick passing is an underrated part of his game. Yet, it’s his goalscoring, despite only managing 17 goals in 134 Saints games, that his manager believes in most. Playing up front will give him more opportunities to show off this element of his game and it’s certainly something Saints are in desperate need of.

Verdict: Stuart Armstrong and Adam Armstrong

None of the attackers currently at Ralph Hasenhuttl’s disposal have shown themselves to be the answer to Saints’ goalscoring woes so we’re blindly guessing to an extent here. But considering that the manager will likely look to have one of his two forwards dropping in and the other running beyond into the channels, the two Armstrongs seem the best fit.

Adam Armstrong should be the favourite to start out of this trio having come off the bench instead of Adams against Villarreal and as the best of Saints’ options when it comes to running beyond the defence and stretching the game. If we pencil him in, that leaves one spot remaining between Stuart Armstrong and Adams.

They both do the job of the second striker well, tucking inside, helping link-up play and acting as a physically imposing force for the opposition defence to deal with. There’s not much separating the two for this place in our eyes but we’ve gone with Armstrong for a few reasons.

The first is simply that Adams seemed to fall out of favour as pre-season wore on while Armstrong ended much better than he started. The second is that Armstrong actually scored in pre-season and Hasenhuttl’s glowing words after that goal showed the manager didn’t feel it was a fluke. And the last reason is simply Saints’ shambolic record in recent seasons without their Scottish utility man.

That leaves us with the following XI based on this week’s squad battles:

Bazunu; Perraud, Salisu, Bednarek, Bella-Kotchap, Walker-Peters; Lavia, Ward-Prowse, Aribo; S Armstrong, A Armstrong

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