You couldn’t make it up, as the unwanted records flooded in for Arsenal, they came up against Southampton and their rejected former player, Theo Walcott, back at the club where he made his name. This script was already written and just needed a cast of twenty-two players and two managers, one riding the crest of a wave and the other in the depths of despair.
This wasn’t for the faint-hearted fan or one of a nervous disposition, a loss here and Arsenal were in the mire and draw wasn’t much better and a win was the stuff of fantasy. This Arsenal is like a wounded animal trying to find shelter from the hunting pack. Everyone senses it’s vulnerability and expects to triumph, some are even deriving pleasure from their misfortunes.
Yet, there are a few individuals at the head of this misadventure that may have had a hand in this faltering campaign, almost orchestrating the club’s sad devaluation and destruction. Those behind the scenes that no one sees, that hide when things get tough and point towards the players and ultimately, at the manager. Those that withdrew funds from the club, that banked the big money from advertising and sponsorship, and failed to reinvest in a deteriorating squad.
There are more curious decisions that someone, somewhere must be regretting in the cold light of day and they aren’t that hard to work out. Ever had that feeling of impending doom, engulfed by fear and accompanied by anxiety and sweat? When you’ve made a mistake that is obvious and you can’t deny or run away from it, some at the Emirates are experiencing it as we speak.
No creativity in midfield, no Mesut Ozil. There’s a shortage of quality fullbacks, even more so after the sending off of Gabriel but there’s no Saliba. Willian was bought in to bring quality but he’s just taking up valuable space that could be inhabited by Nelson or Pepe. Mikel Arteta claims to trust Pepe but alternates him with the second rate Brazilian striker, he supports Xhaka after a red card but not so Guendouzi and publicly castigates Pepe for his error of judgement.
Arsenal have had three players sent off in four matches and the remaining ten shell-shocked men of Arsenal had to dig deep against the inevitable Southampton onslaught until the final whistle, and in many ways, it felt like a victory. The one bright point was Aubameyang back on the scoresheet at the right end and he looked mightily relieved as his head looked to the skies whilst no doubt giving thanks to someone high above the stadium.
Unsurprisingly, it was a twitchy first 15 or 20 minutes where Arsenal were overthinking things and trying not to make things worse for themselves. Arsenal had the brakes firmly on, whereas Southampton could have been playing at home, such was the ease of their football.
Flowing, entertaining and purposeful, the sort of football you play when you are in this rich vein of form and battling to stay in the top six or top four. They heaped on the pressure when Elneny and Gabriel got themselves in a tangle, that allowed Adams to push the ball through to an advancing Walcott.
The former Arsenal man got the better of Leno by making him commit himself before dinking it over his head. The type of thing we knew he could do in an Arsenal shirt but also the type of thing he didn’t do enough of, otherwise he’d still be there.
Not that he’d want to be at present, with both teams heading in exactly the opposite directions and contrasting form. The 28th minute finally saw some form of Arsenal threat with Aubameyang combining with Pepe before Ceballos hoiked it over the bar.
As is usually the case, Arsenal decided to try to dig themselves out of the hole and seemed to inject more urgency into their play in the second half but the Saints looked likely to add another with the constant pressure they were happy to apply.
Saka then decided to take things into his own hands (52) and took off down the left, managing to evade his pursuers before pinging a ball to Nketiah who stroked it to Aubameyang and the Arsenal striker made no mistake. This was as Arsenal a goal as you will see this season and underlines why heaven and earth were moved to secure the young Englishman’s services.
He slid past two opponents, skimmed past another, and flushed two more out of position before putting the ball on a plate for Nketiah to subtly play in the club’s star striker adding to his previous two. Arteta looked like a prisoner who just discovered the warden had dropped his keys to the cell and his car and he clapped his hands together firmly, probably to release the tension, keep himself warm and remind himself what it’s like to celebrate a goal from open play.
In the 63rd minute, Gabriel, who had a dismal evening, tried to hop on the back of Theo Walcott for a lift, his look of astonishment was wasted on the ref and from that point, Arsenal had to go 30 minutes without conceding with their obligatory 10 men. From the moment of the dismissal, Southampton were in full control as Arsenal settled for what they had and a change in personnel including Luiz and Cedric emphasised the game plan.
I said before the match that Arsenal needed four points from their next two games, so we move on to Everton who beat Leicester and Chelsea in their last two matches. For now, Arteta has some breathing room and his striker has finally come to life. Is this a turning point? Hell no, they’ve now lost Gabriel and are without William Saliba, and as a result, we could be in for the return of Mustafi. It never rains, it pours!
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