Post Match Review
Three Talking Points from Southampton 1 – 3 Arsenal
A well fought execution of revenge played out at St Mary’s on Tuesday night as a resurgent Arsenal picked up yet another three points and climbed the table to a more respectable eighth place. The club are now just a surprising four points behind champions Liverpool – who do have a game in hand, but still – Arsenal are now breathing down the neck of the ‘best team in the world TM’.
Getting the Selection Right
This was validation for Arteta’s team selection in the FA Cup loss to the Saints on Saturday and further proof, were it needed, of the quality combinations offered by Arsenal’s Hale End superstars in the making, Saka and Smith-Rowe. Fresh legged and fresh faced, the deadly duo pressed, ran, fought and nipped into gaps that the usually well oiled Southampton machine couldn’t fill. As the game drew on and Arsenal pulled ahead, the South coast team tired, exposing Hasenhüttl’s gamble for a full strength team selection that saw them prevail in the cup.
Arteta’s prioritising of the league paid off and momentum is now certainly building in the favour of the North London side to the direction of the sharp end of the table. Arteta, though learning on the job, has had his latest gamble pay off – rotation brought into focus by tiring Arsenal legs as Smith-Rowe went off injured, likely from over exposure, then Partey was grounded with cramp as he claws his way back to full fitness from injury.
After a neat and tidy but wholly ineffectual performance just four days previous in the cup against Southampton, Pepe tonight continued his fight back to form with one of his most important displays in recent memory. Hard running in both directions, which would no doubt have pleased the manager, he more than once found himself in the right position when it most counted and was able to place a beautiful Granit Xhaka pass beyond Alex McCarthy and equalise as the match was firmly in the balance.
Another Southampton goal and heads could have bowed, but an energetic high-press and some clinical passing allowed the boys in red and white to capitalise on some unfocussed anticipation from the home side, allowing a head’s up Xhaka to place the ball directly at the Ivorian’s feet. Pepe showed great strength to hold off the defender before placing his shot past the keeper for 1-1.
He still made some of the easy things look more complicated than it should, but encouragingly, he looks like he’s up for the fight. Only when Valery started to slip past him with alarming regularity did Arteta look to bring him off for fresher legs, but the tiring Smith-Rowe’s substitution changed minds, seeing Willian come off for the young midfield meistro instead.
Oddly, Pepe received a yellow card for not coming off the pitch quick enough when called and then wasn’t substituted at all – surely a decision that will be reversed under appeal. An encouraging night, nonetheless.
Lacazette the Hale End Foster Parent
Having been considered disposable after Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang’s imperious run of form at the tail end of last season which resulted in four goals in the semi-final and final of the FA Cup and a contribution in the Charity Shield against ‘best team in the world TM’ Liverpool, Alexandre Lacazette has quietly gone about his business as Hale End foster parent and reserve club mascot, surreptitiously knocking in goals that have spear-headed Arsenal’s return to form and subsequent climb up the league table. Where he has previously looked heavy, slow and clumsy, he now looks leaner, faster and displaying a more cutting edge approach to putting the bloody ball in the back of the net.
Always a grafter, Lacca’s now putting the miles into the right areas of the pitch, holding up play, finding space, snapping at ankles and dropping deep to supply Saka and the often marauding Kieran Tierney. Filling in for an absent (or guiding a young) number 10, Lacazette is showing a steely leadership by example and endeavour, and these actions have brought him back into favour just when the club needed him most – without irony, at the exact moment that Aubamayang’s goal contributions have dried up. Getting banjaxed by the post as he put in Arsenal’s third goal is a fitting metaphor for his recent performances – physical, brave and paying off.
With a special mention for our ‘Beckham at the back’ Cedric Soures, who is now pushing both Tierney and Hector Bellerin for a place at left and right back respectively, he is emblematic of a couple of signings that only a short while ago felt agent driven rather than being focused on positive recruitment. Both he and Pablo Mari are claiming their right to be in contention in the best ways possible.
Another well fought win for Mikel Arteta’s improving Arsenal may well start to get the team noticed by those who were quick to write both off just a few weeks ago.