Stuart Armstrong struggling at Southampton after Celtic switch
Celtic Park photo: John Martin, Stuart Armstrong render from photo by Ailura, both used under license from Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 3.0 license.
Stuart Armstrong has struggled for playing time at Southampton after making the switch from Celtic over the summer. The 26-year-old has been used sparingly by new manager Mark Hughes, picking up more minutes for the Scotland national team than at club level in recent weeks.
Armstrong played against Albania in October’s Nations League clash and on Sunday in a friendly against Portugal. For the Saints, however, he’s been reduced to substitute appearances due to stiff competition for a starting place. It’s too early to suggest his long-term future at St Mary’s is in doubt, but things aren’t going to plan for Armstrong on the South Coast.
Gradual rise to prominence
After spending his youth career with Dyce Juniors, Inverness and Dundee United, Armstrong successfully made the transition to United’s first-team in 2011 and went on to make 150 appearances in all competitions, scoring and creating 52 goals. His form for the Tangerines led to Celtic paying attention and a move in February 2015 followed.
The 26-year-old had his ups and down at Parkhead but he showcased his best form in his final two seasons at Celtic – scoring and creating 22 goals in 31 games (2016/17) and contributing seven goals in 14 starts (2017/18). Southampton, who narrowly avoided the drop the previous campaign, took a £7m punt on the midfielder but haven’t found a place for him in the side.
Premier League dream becoming a minor nightmare
Upon Armstrong’s summer move to Southampton, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers admitted the midfielder had long dreamt of playing in England. His dream is becoming a nightmare, however, as he’s spent more time on the bench than the pitch this season.
The Scottish international, who has scored one goal in nine games for his country, has only made one Premier League start for the Saints this season. He’s racked up a paltry 120 minutes of playing time, 56 of which came against Burnley in early August.
The ex-Celtic star has been left out of the matchday squad on three occasions and has averaged just 24 minutes-per-game in the top flight. Armstrong was given 81 minutes in the League Cup but he doesn’t have his manager’s trust in more competitive outings.
Competition fierce in Southampton squad
Armstrong finds himself low down the pecking order with Nathan Redmond, and Mohamed Elyounoussi preferred on the wing, while Manolo Gabbiadini has been preferred in an attacking-midfielder role. Hughes has opted for a more rigid 4-4-2 system which means a playmaker who operates between the lines like Armstrong has no place in the side.
At Celtic, the 26-year-old featured heavily in central midfield with more license to roam and pull apart defenders. He’s also played on the left-wing, attacking-midfield, right-wing and briefly in a holding midfield role. For such a versatile player, it’s telling that Hughes still hasn’t found a place for Armstrong. It’s still early days, but the midfielder won’t want to spend his debut campaign sitting on the bench.
The midfielder’s Premier League ambitions led to him leaving Celtic despite his success at Parkhead, but the decision hasn’t yet reaped the rewards.