…takes EPL bow
Dreams, they say, come true and that will be the testimony of Super Eagles midfielder Joe Aribo who could see his lifelong ambition to play i n the English Premier League come to fruition as he set to take his first kick in arguably world’s biggest division when his new outfit Southampton visit Tottenham on Saturday. Aribo completed a £10 million move t o the Saints this summer on the back of his stellar season with Rangers which he powered to Europa Cup final and Scottish Cup victory. Aribo was at the heart of Rangers’ dominance in the Scottish League; for four years he was one of the biggest stars in the division with many big sides monitoring his progress.
He had his eyes fixed on a move to the EPL and he got his wish this summer. Some Saints faithful could be sceptical about the quality he is bringing to the team but the forward dispelled some of the fears when he scored a wonderful solo goal in a pre-season friendly against Villareal on Saturday with a dashing run that would make Lionel Messi green with envy and a sublime finish that could be likened to that of Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a terrific way to announce his arrival at the club with a performance that got thousands of fans that thronged ST Mary Stadium salivating for more deliverables from their Nigerian prized asset.
Aribo is coming into a system that fits his positional preferences perfectly: the Saints’ 4-2- 2-2 accommodates two narrow no.10s, and it is expected Aribo will start on the right of that attacking midfield band. He has already given a heady glimpse of what he is capable of. The only real question is one born of paranoia: what if something goes wrong? It all seems too good to be true otherwise; without any injuries or unforeseen circumstances, it is difficult to envisage Aribo not endearing himself to the St Mary’s faithful. Often underestimated for his languid manner, observers may not appreciate the Super Eagle’s work off the ball.
Aribo accrued more pressure than any teammate in last season’s Europa League campaign. Upon closer inspection, the Nigeria international outranked every teammate who played six games or higher for average pressures per 90. Owing to Southampton’s proclivity to work their socks off without possession, the ex-Gers star will not be a fish out of water in Coach Ralph Hasenhuttl’s pressing scheme. James Ward-Prowse has largely carried the responsibility of fashioning chances for the South Coast side, both from open play and set pieces. Having said that, the England international needs help.
The midfielder’s eight big chances created last season tellingly outdid every teammate’s haul in the whole campaign, beating Nathan Redmond who created seven clear-cut opportunities. Aribo led the way for Expected Assists (4.5) in last year’s Europa League campaign for Rangers with seven big chances created outranking every colleague. In the Premiership, only two ‘Gers teammates fashioned more clear openings than the Super Eagle, thus whetting the appetite of Saints fans if he can make things happen in the final third. Only a handful of Southampton’s players have ever featured in European competition, with Mohamed Elyounoussi last featuring in the Europa League while on loan with Celtic in 2019/20 and 2020/21. Indeed, the Scottish Premiership’s standing is lower than the Premier League, but Aribo’s experience of playing continental football in the last three years with the Rangers will stand him in good stead in England’s top flight.