Well, that was horrible, wasn’t it? The worst Arsenal performanceover 90 minutes since the Villa debacle on the opening day? Probably. Aside for a couple of brief spells before and after half time it was the kind of disappointing display many of us would have thought was consigned to the past and those dark days of Denilson and Djourou. Somehow, Arsenal emerged from a rainy trip to the south coast with a barely deserved 2-2 draw. Whether this proves to be crucial point in the long run or two vital points dropped remains to be seen. The fact the team were able to avoid defeat given the utterly abject nature of the performance is arguably a positive. However, the game presented a number of causes for concern.
Dragging their Arses
Not for the first time, Arsenal took some time to get going. So far this season, for the most part, slow starts haven’t been too much of a problem given the team’s powers of recovery and habit of improving as the game goes on.
On this occasion however, they we up against a fearless, organised outfit who saw Arsenal’s tepid start as an invitation to play very much on the front foot. The Saints forward line, complimented by the impressive Luke Shaw out wide, was a constant threat in the first half and pounced on any and all errors made by the Arsenal players. The opening 20 minutes saw us pegged back in our own penalty area and when Fonte’s header from Shaw’s cross put the Saint one up, it was no less than they deserved.
Thankfully, that was how the score line stayed up until half time but that’s not say Southampton didn’t have chances to extend their lead. One imagines that if they had first choice front man Rickie Lambert playing instead of the raw 18-year old Sam Gallagher, things would have been far, far worse for Arsene Wenger’s side by the break.
As the season wears on, this failure to impose themselves from the very start of games could prove costly – especially against decent sides. As has been well documented, the coming weeks see Arsenal face a run of games in different competitions that will go some way to shaping the destiny of the season. Starting those matches like they did against Southampton and the only thing we will be looking forward to is yet more failure and disappointment.
When the starting XI was announced and people realised that Wenger had opted for the ‘Flarteta’ combination, the collective groan from Arsenal fans almost knocked earth from its very own axis. While initially looking like a decent pairing in midfield at the start of the campaign, recent months have seen the team unable to find any rhythm when the two are deployed alongside one another.
This didn’t change at St. Mary’s as they failed to provide any link to the forward players and, despite being ‘defensive midfielders’ didn’t actually offer much protection to the defence behind them. Southampton’s midfield was able to thrive up against the duo as neither of them seemed to have any idea what their responsibilities were. Could either one of them had done more to prevent Adam Lallana making that run into the box for the Saints’ second? Yes, absolutely.
Flamini compounded his poor showing later on in the game as he was correctly shown a red card for a daft and dangerous two-footed lunge on Morgan Scheiderlin with ten minutes remaining. The Frenchman now misses the next three matches which is ultimately disappointing but at least means we won’t see him and his tag team partner stinking up the midfield together for a while. It was disappointing to hear the manager describe the decision to send Flamini off as ‘harsh’ given his long campaign against such reckless behaviour in the past. People with call it hypocrisy and it would be difficult to disagree.
Woj the Throne
If there were any positives to take then it would be the performances of certain players in the back line. Koscileny and Mertesacker were manful in the face of something of an onslaught. Both completed numerous clearances and interceptions, showing exactly why they have received so many plaudits this season. Behind them, Wojciech Szczesny was Arsenal’s man of the match after pulling off a string of key saves in both halves to preserve the point. The Pole in goal recovered well having been largely at fault the opening goal after allowing Fonte’s header to beat him at his near post. Again, it’s a sign of his growing maturity that he doesn’t allow mistakes to affect his performances.
At full back, it was a very different story. Both Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal put in uncharacteristically poor performances and were often found wanting in the face of pressure from the Saints in wide areas. In the first half, Monreal twice gifted the home side opportunities to score. Firstly getting caught in possession in the box, and secondly an unconvincing clearance that cannoned off an attacker into the path of Gallagher who should really have done better. It almost came as no surprise that it was also his failure to acknowledge the presence of Fonte that allowed the defender to get the better of him in the air to score.
To say Luke Shaw got the best of Sagna would be an understatement, although given how little support he was given by Gnabry ahead of him, this was inevitable. Our braided right back did somewhat redeemed himself from a poor first as it was his determination and endeavour to win the ball that got him in a position to set up Olivier Giroud’s inventive equaliser immediately after the break.
Zil your Lips
A word on Özil. Like the rest of our attacking players, he was virtually anonymous in the first half. It is this kind of so-called ‘disappearing act’ that makes it easy for people to bemoan his impact on the side. However, it was his second half display that provided some much needed impetus for Arsenal to come away from St Mary’s with anything at all. The German was far more involved following the interval and him simply being on the ball more made things happen. It was his run and pass to Santi Cazorla the saw Arsenal take an unlikely lead. Had we managed to maintain some concentration and not concede immediately after, then maybe the team may have been galvanised and put a in a far better showing. It was also Özil who then had the best chance to swing things back in Arsenal’s favour following his drive from midfield and deflected shot that unfortunately came back off the crossbar.
There’s been far too much talk about Özil apparently not fulfilling the promise expected when he signed. While he could be better at times, it’s certainly not the case that he has been as poor as certain people would have you believe. At present, he’s playing at about a level 7 which is no cause for complaint. When the 9s and 10s eventually come, people will wonder what they were worrying about. To question Özil is fair but to doubt him isn’t.
Pod Cast (aside)
Despite his two goals against Coventry on Friday, Lukas Podolski was once again inexplicably left out of the team and only brought on when it was far too late to have any meaningful impact on the game. Omissions like this make one wonder what the future holds for the German international. He’s certainly not out of the side because of his ability so you have think there is something else preventing him from featuring. Whatever it is, one can only hope is it resolved because a player of such undoubted talent should not be wasting away on the bench.
After the FA Cup draw at the weekend, everybody seemed transfixed by Arsenal’s fixture list through February and March. Unfortunately, this more immediate testing trip to Southampton seemed to be ignored. Failure to win now all of a sudden means that, despite still being top of the league, we are now in a situation where we are relying on others to slip up in order to hold our position. That said, if this performance is a sign of things to come then it may well not matter how our rivals get on as we will plummet like a stone. Hopefully, this was a one off and a wake up call reminding the boss and the team that the going is about to get very tough. While we may rue the two points dropped, we can be grateful we came out with anything at all. The importance of avoiding defeat could prove to be immensely important.