Southampton vs. Arsenal: Szczesny’s blunders cost 2 goals, Koscielny’s fitness a worry

The Gunners lost 2-0 at Southampton to slip to sixth place in the Premier League, three points behind the Saints and one behind Tottenham. Expectations were high after the hard-fought victories over Queens Park Rangers and West Ham. But Arsenal still can’t find any consistency in what has become a frustrating season for most fans.

Southampton vs. Arsenal

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Southampton capitalized on two blunders from Szczesny to find the net on Thursday. Szczesny showed poor decision-making by coming off his line in the 34th minute although Koscielny was still chasing Mane, who could only shoot from a very tight angle. The weirdest part was that Szczesny decided to retreat before Koscielny or Mertesacker could fill in the void in goal. Mane was running away from the area but when the Senegal forward realized Szczesny was not pressuring him, he spun to curl home the opener.

Szczesny then panicked in the 56th when Debuchy intercepted a low cross from Davis. The Poland goalkeeper had plenty of time to clear the ball since Mertesacker was shielding him from Pelle. In fact, even Mertesacker or Debuchy could have cleared the danger. But for some unknown reason, Szczesny flicked the ball toward Tadic, who poked home for a 2-0 lead.

Every goalkeeper makes blunders. But while De Gea, Courtois and Lloris make one blunder per season, it happens at least five times a year with Szczesny. That’s too much for a club like Arsenal. Another difference is that De Gea, Courtois and Lloris often pull off outstanding saves. It seldom happens with Szczesny, who is 24 years old like De Gea. I don’t think Szczesny will improve next season. The Gunners haven’t had any world-class goalkeeper since Lehmann.

A sluggish Koscielny

Wenger made three changes to the side that defeated West Ham 2-1 with Gibbs, Chambers and Rosicky replacing Monreal, Flamini and Welbeck in the starting lineup. The manager played Sanchez at centerforward, hoping to test Southampton’s slow pair of centerbacks. The downside was that Arsenal had no impact in the air and could only make the difference on the ground. The Gunners got off to a good start, pressing high up the pitch to put the Saints on the back foot. However, the hosts soon exposed Arsenal’s weaknesses.

Koscielny had three days to recover from the West Ham match. That wasn’t enough as the French defender lost many duels and really looked sluggish. Tadic got the better of Mertesacker in the seventh minute to connect with a throw-in before crossing for Pelle, who outjumped Koscielny for a header that bounced off the post. Szczesny was much criticized for the opening goal but a lethargic Koscielny was guilty too. Koscielny was ahead of Mane when the pass was made, but the shorter Senegal forward somehow bullied Koscielny to control the long ball.

The Frenchman’s performance deteriorated in the second half. He made a stupid foul on Ward-Prowse to gift Southampton a free kick in the 52nd. Then Pelle beat Koscielny to the ball in the 61st to meet a low cross from Bertrand for a first-time effort that struck the post. The Saints nearly added a third goal in the 65th when Tadic intercepted a weak pass from Koscielny. Tadic fed Pelle, whose shot was headed off the line by Debuchy.

Low on confidence

Koscielny has been suffering from tendonitis in both heels since the World Cup. Wenger rested him for more than a month, but anybody could see on Thursday that Koscielny is not 100 percent fit. As a defender, you can’t afford to play hurt in a league as physical as the Premiership. Koscielny could play one game per week in the most optimistic scenario, but I still think a fully fit Monreal is a better option at centerback than a weakened Koscielny. It would be safer for the manager to give up on Koscielny for this season and recruit a centerback during the winter transfer window which opens on Saturday.

For his first start in midfield, Chambers performed poorly. The English teenager lost possession quite a few times and struggled in his positional play, neither winning tackles nor building plays. He basically played like a useless third centerback. Obviously, Chambers is low on confidence because of the number of yellow cards he has received this season. Shying away from duels is the passive way to avoid a booking whereas reading the game well and making timely challenges is the active way. Wenger must have been disappointed to see that Chambers opted for the first option.

Chambers failed to stop Bertrand’s teasing cross in the ninth minute, forcing Szczesny to divert the ball with his leg as Pelle was a split second late at the near post. One telling play was Mane’s cutback for an unmarked Ward-Prowse in the 40th. Chambers was on the same line as Koscielny and Mertesacker while he should have been the one marking Ward-Prowse, whose 12-yard strike was blocked by Szczesny.

Losing duels in the final third

Injuries have propelled Chambers into the starting lineup too quickly, too soon. Now the manager must develop a player who also needs to rebuild his confidence. Chambers doesn’t read the game well enough to have a bright future in midfield. And he is too slow to turn at fullback. That leaves centerback as his only viable position in the long term.

At 23, Coquelin has more experience than Chambers but I don’t think he’s the answer to our troubles in midfield. There’s a reason why the manager loaned Coquelin out to Freiburg and Charlton last year. When Ward-Prowse tested Szczesny from 12 yards in the 40th, Coquelin inexplicably stopped tracking the Southampton midfielder. Coquelin was then guilty on the second goal as Davis ghosted past him for the decisive cross. At the top level, you need to win those duels in your area. Coquelin also received a yellow card in the 75th for a late challenge on Reed. I believe a fit Flamini is a better option than Coquelin in midfield.

Wenger replaced Chambers with Walcott in the 60th. Chambers contributed so little that I thought Arsenal could have started more efficiently the match with Coquelin, Cazorla and Rosicky in midfield. It was weird to see Rosicky as a winger at kickoff. The Czech playmaker had less impact on the team’s passing game than against Queens Park Rangers.

Sanchez’s self-control

On the right wing, Oxlade-Chamberlain did some damage with his deep runs. Sanchez met a cross from Chambo in the 55th and cut inside a defender to fire a low strike that Forster saved. Chambo also had two chances but failed to convert them, volleying wide a cross from Cazorla in the 27th and shooting straight at Forster in the 78th. Cazorla played in the hole and could have opened the scoring in the 20th when Rosicky squared the ball back. However, his first-time effort lacked power to beat Forster.

Our most threatening player was again Sanchez, who tested Forster with long-range strikes in the eighth minute and the 30th. He also curled a free kick inches over the bar in the 68th. Sanchez has so quickly made a name for himself in the Premier League that he’s becoming a target for our opponents. Wanyama kicked Sanchez in the thigh in the 10th before collecting a booking in the 23rd for tripping the Chile forward. I have been very impressed by Sanchez’s self-control so far, especially when you compare with Wilshere’s reactions. The Saints were lucky not to be down to 10 men in the 67th when Gardos, as the last defender, fouled Sanchez who was clean through on goal.

A poor defensive record

Sanchez is the main reason why the Gunners have the third most prolific offense in the league behind Manchester City and Chelsea. On the other hand, eight teams have a tighter defense than Arsenal, which is on pace to finish the season with 48 goals conceded. We had the excuse of heavy losses to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City to explain the high number of goals (41) allowed last season. There is no such explanation this term as 2-0 is our heaviest defeat so far. Our poor defensive record clearly shows the manager in which direction he should look during the winter transfer window.

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