The Gunners won by the smallest margin against Southampton on Wednesday but it was a massive victory because Manchester United, Liverpool, West Ham and Swansea had taken three points the day before. A draw at the Emirates stadium would have left Arsenal six points behind the Saints in the standings, but a late goal from Sanchez helped the Gunners move within three points of third place in the Premier League.
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Arsenal struggled to crack the Southampton defense because the Saints pressed high up the pitch to disrupt our passing game and because our back four sat deep to neutralize Long’s pace, which meant that the gap between the backline and the frontline made the transition from defense to attack relatively slow. The Saints played with a lot of intensity, despite getting only two full days of rest, but they started tiring in the last 15 minutes when Giroud’s cameo combined with Southampton’s numerical inferiority made the difference.
Forster pulled off a string of outstanding saves to deny Arsenal but the Saints lost their luck when Koeman made his three substitutions and could not replace an injured Alderweireld in the 84th. The officiating was poor and well below UEFA standards. Marriner failed to spot fouls on Oxlade-Chamberlain and Monreal in the opening minutes. The visitors were also upset when Ramsey made a clumsy challenge on Cork in the 11th. The referee played advantage, although there was none, and subsequently denied Southampton a free kick in a good position.
Ox chasing consistency
Marriner showed again poor judgement in the 38th when Wanyama stamped on Sanchez’s Achilles heel. The referee awarded Arsenal a free kick but did not show any yellow card. The worst call occurred in the 53rd. Bertrand shoved Chambo before going to the ground but still won a free kick despite clearly making the foul. I thought Cazorla was lucky not to get booked in the 56th as he inadvertently stamped on Tadic’s ankle to win the ball back. Tadic had to come off the pitch while Cazorla should have received a yellow card for an unintentional but still dangerous foul.
Wenger made only one change to the team that edged West Bromwich 1-0 on Saturday with Chambo getting the nod over Giroud in the starting lineup. Maybe it was a consequence of the knock Chambo picked up at the Hawthorns, but I thought he was less incisive than usual. The challenge for young players like Chambo is to become more consistent and repeat good performances every week. Sanchez is a great example for them. The Chile international did not have his best stuff on Wednesday and he might even hit the wall physically, but he still found the energy in the 89th to score the winner.
From frustration to joy
The Gunners were able to put more pressure on Southampton when Giroud replaced Chambo in the 65th. The Frenchman chased a long ball from Sanchez in the 69th to fire a half-volley that Forster parried. Wanyama bullied Arsenal with his physical game but was punished for a cynical foul on Giroud in the 76th. For a split second, Giroud thought he had scored by heading a cross from Podolski in the 87th, but Forster jumped to palm away the looping header with his right hand.
Giroud did not find the net but he still played a role in the lone goal. The ball bounced high when Giroud controlled a cross from Chambers in the 89th. Fonte cleared the ball, which bounced off his arm and fell to Ramsey on the right wing. Surrounded by three defenders, Ramsey still managed to cut the ball back for an unmarked Sanchez, who swept it home from seven yards. You can give Sanchez some credit for his movement inside the box, but I was more impressed by Ramsey’s composure while delivering the final ball.
Ramsey was very frustrating to watch for most of the match. He missed a short pass to Cazorla in the 41st, sent a 30-yard drive toward the corner flag in the 47th and cut inside for an effort that was blocked in the 79th while he had good passing options inside the box. Selfish, predictable, inaccurate. At least three good reasons to hope that Wenger would replace him with Rosicky. But the manager kept faith with Ramsey and the Wales midfielder showed he could be a good team player too. In stoppage time, Giroud outmuscled Wanyama to win the ball and fed Ramsey, who played a one-two with the Frenchman before Forster denied him.
Welbeck’s poor first touch
The understanding between Giroud and Ramsey last season proved crucial in our title bid. Giroud’s link-up play and capacity to hold the ball up is obviously an incentive for midfielders like Ramsey and Wilshere to make deep runs. The more understandings the team develops, the more difficult it will be for opponents to contain us. Cutting the passing channel between two players is easy while monitoring four or five is almost impossible.
The partnership between Cazorla and Welbeck led Arsenal to victory last weekend. The two combined again on Wednesday by the seventh minute. Sanchez found Cazorla in midfield, and the Spaniard slipped a through ball to Welbeck, who beat the offside trap but missed the target from a tight angle. Welbeck had no other option since there was no Gunner inside the Southampton area. The England striker connected with a Cazorla free kick on the stroke of halftime but Forster tipped his header over the bar.
Welbeck has already played five seasons at Manchester United but he’s still a raw player at 24. He definitely needs to work on his first touch and his finishing. Welbeck poorly controlled a cross from Chambo in the 15th, losing possession inside the Southampton area. He killed another play while chasing a long ball in the 37th. A poor first touch allowed Yoshida to clear the ball.
Where are Cazorla’s shooting boots?
Henry started his career as a winger like Welbeck but there’s quite a technical gap between the two. When Yoshida slipped in the 36th while attempting to clear a cross from Chambo, Welbeck sent the loose ball into the side-netting with a backheel flick. I could see Henry score with that kind of trick, but not Welbeck. The England striker had a decent game but he should have converted his chance in the 70th when Sanchez picked out Giroud on the edge of the box. The Frenchman played Welbeck in, but Forster stopped Welbeck’s curling shot from 12 yards. Forster was on fire at the Emirates but that’s really the kind of opportunity that no top striker would miss.
Cazorla still missed his shooting boots on Wednesday, firing into the stands from 25 yards in the 60th, but he helped engineer some good moves. The Spaniard wrongfooted a defender by faking a cross with his right foot in the 24th. However, neither Welbeck nor Chambo was able to meet his left-footed cross toward the far post. Cazorla then initiated some intricate passing in a tiny space two minutes later. He connected with Welbeck inside the area, and the England striker flicked the ball to Chambo, whose low strike was saved by Forster.
Defensively, the Gunners were troubled only four times. Two Southampton chances came from counterattacks and two resulted from marking mistakes. Pelle played a one-two with Davis in the 14th before blazing over the bar from eight yards. Our defense was awfully static on that play with Davis beating Koscielny to the ball and Pelle outpacing Mertesacker. Arsenal survived another marking mistake in the 49th. A corner was quickly played to Clyne on the edge of the box. Unmarked at the far post, Pelle chested Clyne’s cross but had his volley blocked by Koscielny.
The Gunners didn’t look as silly as against Manchester United on the fast break, but twice Pelle could have scored. Wanyama stole the ball from Sanchez in the 44th and Pelle’s long-range strike took a deflection off Kocielny, but Martinez was able to make the save. Koscielny’s attempted interception in the 51st put Arsenal in trouble. Pelle held him off and found Wanyama, who released Long down our left flank. Long unleashed a long-range effort that sailed wide while a pass to an unmarked Pelle at the far post was the better option. Koscielny lost track of Pelle on that play while Chambers lacked pace to catch the Southampton striker.
Surprisingly, Martinez showed more poise than Fabianski and Mannone when they started in goal. The 22-year-old goalkeeper displayed very good decision-making on a Southampton free kick when he caught a high ball 15 yards away from his line. If Szczesny is not fit for Saturday’s match at Stoke, I think the Argentine will have a serious test about his authority in the air.
The Gunners are sixth in the standings and have little maneuvering room in the race for a Champions League spot because of their poor start to the season. The victory over Southampton was just the first of seven games in a 26-day span this month. Wenger’s reluctance to rotate is worrying. We are especially short in midfield with Arteta, Wilshere and Ozil still sidelined. December will leave Flamini, Ramsey and Cazorla not much time to recover from all the running. Maybe it’s the right moment for Rosicky to get a chance.