Southampton (0) 0 Arsenal (1) 2
St. Mary’s Stadium, Britannia Road, Southampton SO14 5FP
Thursday, 25th June 2020. Kick-off time: 6.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi, Kieran Tierney; Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pépé, Eddie Nketiah; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Özil, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Sead Kolašinac, Matt Macey, Matt Smith.
Scorers: Eddie Nketiah (20 mins), Joe Willock (87 mins)
Yellow Cards: Shkodran Mustafi, Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 48%
Referee: Graham Scott
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restructions
In Act I, Scene IV of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Marcellus speaks these immortal words to Horatio; “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. One can feel the similarity of the current plight of Arsenal Football Club with the concern of Marcellus. It has now become evident that there is no leadership, no direction from the very top of the club, which of course permeates through Arsenal something akin to a rotten apple in a barrel. As fans, we are both angry and perplexed, whilst some of the players appear to be wishing they were somewhere else, and subsequently playing for somebody else; meanwhile the press corp vultures are circling, looking for easy pickings at the Emirates. By the way, in case you were wondering, Horatio’s reply to Marcellus was “Heaven will direct it.” With all due respects to the Almighty (and the Bard), we cannot wait that long, as time is now of the essence here. Something needs to be done, before we drift into several seasons of mid-table obscurity.
With Bernd Leno, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Gabriel Martinelli, Cedric Soares and Lucas Torreira all on the injured list, and David Luiz on the naughty step, tonight’s match is going to be a case of all hands to the pump, gents. After a fairly competitive start from both clubs, which included some interesting attempts on both goals, the game started to settle down and we were unlucky to get a Bukayo Saka goal chalked off for offside as early as the seventh minute. A few minutes later, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the crossbar when it was easier to score than to miss, and in the early stages, Arsenal were looking like they were playing with purpose. On the twentieth minute a thoughtless pass-back and an indecisive moment by Alex McCarthy in the Southampton goal, led to the quick-thinking of Eddie Nketiah capitalising superbly on the error to open the scoring for Arsenal with a simple tap-in. The home side started to test both our midfield and defence with quite strong passing movements, but thankfully, we managed to soak up their attempts on our goal, despite one or two careless moments by Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi (who got himself booked for his trouble). Despite all that, our patience in trying to break through the Saints’ midfield was far better than we have seen in recent matches, and it was noticeable that concentration could be an issue for us here. Just before half-time, Eddie Nketiah was unlucky not to score on two occasions, and ultimately we went into the break with a lead worth having, as they all are, of course.
A couple of minutes after the restart, Bukayo Saka was a trifle unlucky to get booked for a firm, but decent challenge on Kyle Walker-Peters, and as a result, things started to get a little lively now. We were unlucky when a long ball from goalie Emiliano Martinez found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (after a fantastic run); he tried to flick the ball over to Eddie Nketiah, but the outstretched leg of Jan Bednarek nearly turned it into his own net! Joe Willock replaced Nicolas Pépé just after the hour, just as the home side started to wake up and cause us problems at the back. After the drinks break, a distressed Kieran Tierney gave way for Sead Kolašinac, as the home side started to grow in confidence now. Emiliano Martinez made a match-saving save from Shane Long, and a minute or so later, Eddie Nketiah and Dani Ceballos made way for Alexandre Lacazette and Ainsley Maitland-Niles with just ten minutes of the match remaining. Jack Stephens got a red card for a last-man challenge on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; the subsequent free-kick bounced and pinged around like a pinball until Joe Willock finally put the ball away from point-blank range with three minutes left of the match, which sealed everything up rather nicely.
Really and truly, the lads picked themselves off, dusted themselves down, and were prepared to start all over again, credit where credit is due here, and it was great to see them pick up three points away from home. Eddie Nketiah is utterly priceless and is surely going to grow into a top-class international footballer, as is Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles also; but win or no win, and wherever we end up at the end of this troubled season, the fact remains that Mikel Arteta desperately needs to reinvent both the club and the team. The jury, however, is still out as to whether this likeable, progressive young manager will be given the adequate funds he needs to propel Arsenal back to winning ways. Somehow, deep in our hearts, we all know the answer to that particular question, don’t we? Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, Highfield, Sheffield S2 4SU on Sunday. 28th June at 1.00pm (FA Cup). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.