Arsenal continued their winning form after the international break, but only just, leaving it very late to beat a Southampton side that has struggled to find it’s feet in this season. A Petr Cech own goal, followed by a bit of magic from captain Laurent Koscielny at the other end, left it to Santiago Cazorla to place a heart-stopping, last-minute penalty past Fraser Forster and take 3 hard-earned points for the Gunners.
It was a frustrating affair, all in all. Despite taking the lion’s share of possession, only 2 of Arsenal’s 17 shots of the match were on target, and when they went 1-0 down at home, fans probably envisioned shades of last season’s 4-0 thumping they experienced at the hands of the Saints. Southampton, for all their recent troubles, managed 11 shots, but got a far more respectable 5 on target.
Today, it all kicked off in the 18th minute, when Tadic’s free-kick glided over the wall and got tipped onto the crossbar by Cech, before the crossbar, in turn, tipped it back onto him and in. Cech hasn’t scored an own goal since his Chelsea days in 2009. Unfortunate, yes, (and many on Twitter are still arguing about whether Cech was entirely at fault), but Arsenal are nothing if not great at creating the rods for their own backs.
Thankfully, this minor slip-up was resolved within 10 minutes, when captain Laurent Koscielny led by example and fired an incredible overhead kick into the opposition’s net. Koscienly was a true inspiration today in a game that badly needed one, and apart from scoring also racked up a 100% pass accuracy and won 100% of his tackles in the first half alone (and took a nasty knock at the death). Twitter was alive and singing his praises, even though the frustration was building.
Tactics and New Boys
After that, tactically, it was a bit of a slog. Arsenal’s midfield held the ball up well enough, but the linkup between the front 3 of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, and new signing Lucas Pérez seemed to be lacking. Keen observers will notice that of the 17 shots, one was registered by Lucas Pérez, who began his Arsenal career with a win, but not much else to show for it. Although he was hungry, hustling, and desperate to impress all game, he was brought off in the 63rd minute for Giroud, who went on to win the aforementioned penalty.
Indeed, all eyes were on the new boys, Pérez and German centre-back Mustafi. Wenger was trying something tactical with his new signings, and also resting key players like Xhaka and Sanchez. They seemed to be sorely missed, and he needed them in the end, as Arsenal looked to be struggling offensively – some users on Twitter referring to their attacks as a ‘black hole’. Arguably the new boys need more time to adjust, and the ability Wenger has to rest and rotate a squad with increasing depth is a blessing in disguise.
Southampton would have come into this game with high hopes; the Saints seem to be Arsenal’s current bogey team (an accolade many can claim throughout history), having beaten the Gunners 3 times in their last 6 meetings. They are a pacey, expansive team; a team who – one would think, would appreciate the width that the larger Emirates provides. They began with great energy, and unnerved the Gunners, who were no doubt a little preoccupied with dispensing of the memory of their only other home game this year (that 4-3 loss to Liverpool). They might have even stolen it towards the end, Petr Cech getting back into the good books by stopping Shane Long’s lunge on the 84th.
This was not to be their day, however, and towards the end of the game they suffered what could be called a discipline problem, registering 4 yellow cards in the last 8 minutes (including Jose Fonte’s grappling of Giroud in the lead up to the penalty).
Southampton may have been a little edgy and buoyant, but Arsenal’s patience got them through the game. Despite the fact that new boys were unsettled, they piled the pressure on in the second half. While Wenger had to play his substitutes a little earlier than he normally likes, and may get some stick for not having started Xhaka, Cazorla’s cool finish (a penalty he had to fight Sanchez off for) under all sorts of pressure showed that there is hope yet. For Southampton though, who knows?