Southampton’s Stuart Armstrong could hit new heights in this season’s English Premier League
|Stefan Bienkowski||Sep 12|| 1|
It was just two days before the new English Premier League and Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl wasn’t happy at all.
The Austrian coach was hosting a gaggle of sports journalists ahead of the club’s opening game against Crystal Palace and when the topic turned to the state of his squad, Hasenhuttl took the opportunity to rant about Stuart Armstrong’s condition.
“I’m definitely not happy about that,” noted the Southampton manager after learning that the attacking midfielder had returned from international duty with Scotland injured. “You must definitely be careful with him. I don’t know what happens, but it's the second time he’s come back injured from the international break.”
However, this wasn’t just another Premier League manager complaining about the cumbersome, unhelpful nature of international football. Instead, it was a coach mourning the loss of one of his most important players for the season ahead.
Armstrong wasn’t always the flavour of the month at Southampton. Having joined the English club just a few months before Hasenhuttl, the midfielder quickly found himself relegated to little more than a bit-part substitute as the new manager tried to wrestle control and success from the squad he had inherited from Mark Hughes.
In 23 of the Premier League games Hasenhuttl oversaw in the remaining 2018/19 season Armstrong started 11 and provided just two assists. The following campaign didn't start well either. Armstrong didn’t manage to start any of Southampton’s opening 10 league matches and failed to nail down a regular spot in the team until mid December.
Then the Scotland international scored against Leicester. Two weeks later he did the same against Crystal Palace, then Aston Villa, Norwich and Manchester United. Including assists against Manchester City, Norwich and Everton for good measure.
Stuart Armstrong’s shots from last season’s English Premier League
In the remaining 20 league games of the season Armstrong started all but five of them, as his goals and assists helped the south coast side move from a precarious seventeenth up to the relative comfort of eleventh. Over the course of the league campaign Southampton averaged 1.1 points per game that Armstrong didn’t start. That number shot up to 1.7 when he did.
The lad from Aberdeen, who had proved his worth at Dundee United, Celtic and Scotland had now the same at Southampton.
Armstrong’s use to Hasenhuttl is undoubtedly down to the midfielder’s eye for goal. Five goals in 30 league appearances may not seem like a lot but the Premier League isn’t exactly famous for run-away goal scorers and Armstrong’s single-digit sum actually had him finish joint second in the club’s rankings, behind striker Danny Ings.
Although Armstrong may be remembered by Scottish football fans as a central player, his role for Southampton last season saw him play on the right flank as a wide forward or winger. And it’s there that he found plenty of success.
As well as his goal tally, Armstrong finished fourteenth in the Premier League when it came to shot accuracy and his average of 1.82 shots per game wasn’t far off Ings’ own average of 2.57.
Despite a lack of goalscorers in the team, Hasenhuttl clearly feels comfortable relying on Armstrong to continue providing goals from out wide. No additional firepower has arrived in the summer transfer window and the £23 million that the club have so far spent has been on two defenders.
Indeed, this coming season should be a huge one for the Scot. Although he may not have hit the ground running at Southampton, Armstrong has now undoubtedly established himself on the right flank for the mid-table side. And, if he can avoid anymore injuries for Scotland, should continue going from strength to strength in the coming months.