I remember a former employer of mine imparting a few words of wisdom over a cup of tea and those words still apply to a great many basic things in life today. He said – “If you don’t put anything in, you get nothing in return” – and that pretty much sums up why Arsenal exited the fifth round of the FA Cup after a 1-0 loss to Southampton.
Mikel Arteta’s team gave little in the way of performance and creativity and were outplayed for the majority of the Southampton vs Arsenal match. It was the manner of the capitulation that was hard to accept with a great many players rested that could have made a difference to the result.
The Spanish manager’s insistence on using Nketiah when Lacazette was raring to go was probably the biggest mistake of all, apart from including Willian again. The French striker is capable of scavenging a goal against the run of play and has been in good form recently. With no Aubameyang due to personal reasons, his exclusion made even less sense.
Nketiah hasn’t developed the presence to lead the line nor does he intimidate defenders with his slender frame. I mention the youngster because, yet again, he fluffed his lines when Arsenal got lucky but the failure for this performance was a collective one. Yet, you don’t expect to get results from the poor quality, makeshift side, especially with such a fluffy midfield and blunt strike force.
Arsenal’s shockingly inept recruitment over many years has resulted in a collection of pedestrian performers on the bench that aren’t capable of winning at the highest level. No disrespect to Southampton, they’re hardly Bayern Munich. The Saints are a well-organised and compact side that knows exactly how to get results, but Arsenal had the tools to do the job but instead, they decided to leave them on the van.
Arteta had been condemned before the game for his team selection in a competition that provided him with his one genuine chance of silverware, but it appears that the Premiership and the Europa League hold greater riches. Even if Arsenal put together an amazing run of wins, I doubt they will be in the top four and their future in Europe seems equally uncertain.
As soon as the team sheet came out, my heart sank and I turned to my wife and said we might as well keep the coach engine – Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric, Elneny, Xhaka, Pepe, Willian, Nketiah, Martinelli.
This was the type of side you might play in pre-season against a second division side just to get the legs moving, not for the 4th round of a cup that you were looking to retain. Where was the creativity and control in the middle? Where would a goal come from?
The flip side of the argument is that it’s a long season and rotation is necessary. I support the rotation policy if the depth and quality of the squad were evident but Arsenal don’t have players of the same standard in reserve and therefore, rotation is out of the question.
I’m not beating a drum for Arteta’s dismissal nor am I claiming that I know more than he does with his levels of experience, but he must have known that the idea of a win was optimistic folly. It was generally so poor that I’m even unable to give you my usual in-depth write-up because the positives were few. Suffice to say that Arteta will look back at it as the day Arsenal gave the FA Cup away.
I’m not angry, I’m desperately disappointed. I have no problem with being defeated as long as there has been a decent level of commitment and passion but that wasn’t the case here. The backline wasn’t terrible, even though it was strange to see Cedric on the left, but that decision paled by comparison on discovering that both Pepe and Willian were on the same side.
With so many players at the club providing the same service, the appearance of the duo reminded me of an old Sparks Song – “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” and surely, one has to move on in the summer. I’d hazard a guess that it might be Willian. He’s confused and unhappy in his role but he should try watching from an armchair.
All the main talking points and threats in this game came from Southampton and yet again, the high press tactics that so often dismantle Arsenal were evident again. The game was decided by a Gabriel OG (24) when Walker-Peters’ shot whistled through the legs of Cedric, flicking off the extended leg of the Brazilian central defender.
Arsenal struggled to put anything together and gave the ball away like it was a gift to every passing Southampton players. Of the initial play, Walker-Peters featured frequently in the exchanges but he was joined by Walcott, Ward-Prowse, and Ings.
Thankfully, the radar of Ward-Prowse was malfunctioning when it came to free-kicks, had he been his usual accurate self, then Arsenal would have had more problems. The second half normally brings about a renewed intensity in the Arsenal camp, but it was still far from convincing and in the 50th minute, Southampton went close again when Ings hit the post.
Then Arsenal had their moment (59) with Nketiah just failing to register a goal, followed by Holding failing to get on target from about 10 or 12 yards out. Arsenal asked some questions after Saka and Partey were introduced, but Lacazette had to wait until the 71st minute to try his luck. For me, he should have been on the pitch for the second half, not as a desperate last roll of the dice.
Nketiah nearly got Arsenal back in terms (80) when his goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by Ward-Prowse and as Saka’s cross (90) failed to connect with Lacazette, one knew that it was over. For 90 plus minutes of open play, it had been extremely difficult to make Arsenal’s contribution sound credible or exciting because it so obviously wasn’t. Does Arteta regret it? I’m sure he will do if he finishes at eight and gets tossed out of the Europa League.
In conclusion, Southampton deserved the win. Arsenal only offered a mild threat when a loss seemed inevitable. They will need to offer something in the Premier League return by way of an apology.