Arsenal came away with full three points at St Mary’s as Arteta and his men won their first game since the restart of the Premier League against Southampton. After a routine 3-0 defeat against Manchester City and an unlikely 2-1 loss at Brighton, Arsenal finally seems to get the hang of the situation by claiming a 2-0 victory against the Saints.
Safety first appeared to be the motto against Southampton, as Arsenal nervously plodded around the St Mary’s pitch executing cautious balls back and forth. With Arteta putting everyone on alert that they could find themselves benched at any time, the Gunners followed the script especially after Eddie Nketiah scored the opener.
With 19 minutes gone, the rookie striker poached a stray ball from Saints’ keeper Alex McCarthy that was destined for a teammate but it was way too short and Nketiah made the finish look very simple. I haven’t been sure about this lad, but many fans are bursting with praise and this was food for thought where I was concerned.
Nketiah covered the ground well and was capable of bursts of pace which made Southampton twitch, but it wasn’t all one-way traffic with the prowling Ward Prowse, the ever-dangerous Danny Ings, the industry of Bertrand and the eagerness of Armstrong.
Arsenal had chances before they eventually took the lead and could have been 0-2 up within a few minutes. Nketiah popped the ball into the net (8) after being fed by Xhaka and Saka, which is rather fun to write.
Then, Aubameyang rattled the bar after Kieran Tierney put the long pass through to find Arsenal’s top-man. It was a spurned opportunity that looked almost too easy to miss and the wait for his 50th goal goes on.
Mikel Arteta’s plans were similar to that against City, with the wing-backs covering the central defenders and therefore, limiting their probing and incisive runs into the opposition’s half. I’m not a fan of this tactic but I realise the importance of gathering points at this crucial stage of the campaign. So, it’s something fans like me will have to accept.
On a positive note, Arsenal were working the ball fairly well and possession was clearly better with Xhaka, who was the surprise addition to the side. I knew Southampton would come again and crank up the pressure in the second 45, my only hope was that Arsenal helped themselves to another goal before there was any form of reply.
So, it was no surprise when Ralph Hasenhüttl turned to Kyle Walker-Peters and Shane Long to test the Gunners backline. Arteta spent the second half pacing around the technical area, examining the levels of discipline and if his instructions were being followed to the letter. They were, but it was Southampton providing most of the entertainment.
The Saints’ dominance had increased in the second phase to the point where Arsenal spent large periods in their own half faffing about trying not to concede. At times, the Gunners just couldn’t get the ball, let alone get forward, and only Holding, Tierney, and Saka stood out in an otherwise ordinary Arsenal.
However, Tierney would leave the field in the 68th minute with what could be a calf injury, is this lad destined to be unavailable for half a season every season?
Arsenal then started doing the usual, leaving gaps and Redmond was in a great position to level (73) but unfortunately for him, he stretched the outside of the net. Four minutes later, Shane Long was the next to try his luck by giving it everything, but Martinez looked solid in the absence of Leno. From this point on, my watch seemed to hardly move as I wished away the final 13 minutes of normal time and even the substitutions failed to stop the nerves.
Then, Southampton decided to help Arsenal take all three points (85) when Jack Stephens was caught short chasing Aubameyang. The Saints man had no choice and tried to take the ball in his role as the last defender, but the Gabon hitman went flying and you immediately sensed a red card.
Both Lacazette and PEM stood over the ball for the free-kick, but it was the Frenchman who sent a rocket through the Southampton wall and he got a second chance with another fizzing effort that McCarthy could only slap out into the path of Joe Willock. Arsenal’s youngsters had wrapped up the three points but at times, it wasn’t pretty, more football by numbers.
Mesut Ozil started out from his seat in the Southampton stands, protected from the scorching sun by an umbrella. He couldn’t even make a muddled, transitional side with a stuttering engine. Ceballos isn’t the answer to the Gunners’ lack of creativity and if things are going to improve, Arteta needs to spend on a heartbeat for a side that doesn’t have one present.
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