Last season’s Europa League final didn’t end in glory for Rangers, but Joe Aribo had already made his mark by then. The Nigerian opened the scoring for the Ibrox side against Eintracht Frankfurt and was a formidable force throughout his team’s astonishing run to the showpiece match in Seville. Southampton were clearly watching.
The Premier League completed the £10m signing of Aribo last week with the 25-year-old expected to become a key part of the Southampton team this season. He is ready to take the next step in his career and St Mary’s Stadium could be the perfect place for him to develop and take his game to another level.
Aribo played a number of different roles for Rangers. Steven Gerrard primarily used the Nigerian in an advanced position where he could affect the game in the attacking third. Giovanni van Bronckhorst, however, has deployed Aribo in a number of positions, highlighting his versatility as a midfielder.
This was most evident in last season’s Europa League when van Bronckhorst toggled between using Aribo in a deep position and as a number 10 behind a central striker. The semi-final win over RB Leipzig provided the perfect illustration of all sides of Aribo’s game – he was a midfield barrier in the away leg and a driving force in the final third in the return leg at Ibrox.
“Playing in different positions has helped me realise what I’m capable of doing and also given me an opportunity to keep growing,” Aribo explained when asked about the number of roles and responsibilities he was asked to perform by van Bronckhorst who placed his trust in the Nigerian midfielder.
“As a young footballer craving a chance to play, you’d grab the chance to even play in goal. But here I am being asked to play for my club in different roles on the pitch, I was happy to do it. I must say I am no longer the player I was after going through that phase [of self-doubt]. I am grateful to the manager for the trust, my team-mates for believing in me and supporting me.”
Nigeria might have disappointed at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, but Aribo was one of their best performers at the tournament. The 25-year-old allows knows what it’s like to play for a club expected to win every match they play having spent the last three years at Rangers where he become a Scottish champion last season. All this should stand Aribo in good stead in the Premier League.
Last season was a peculiar one for Southampton. While they played some attractive football at points of the campaign, Hasenhuttl’s team only finished 15th in the Premier League table, only five points above the relegation zone. Southampton have the talent within their squad to pull themselves closer to the top half, certainly now that Aribo has been signed.
Hasenhuttl has predominantly used a 4-4-2 shape as Southampton manager, which might not be the best of fits for Aribo who is most comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 shape. But the Nigerian’s arrival at St Mary’s Stadium will broaden the Saints’ tactical horizons and potentially bring the best out of others around him.
Southampton play a technical-minded game under Hasenhuttl and Aribo is good enough on the ball to thrive. He also has the physical attributes to press high and do the off-the-ball work his new manager will demand of him. Southampton haver clearly done their homework on Aribo and see a player who will suit them well.