Arsenal (0) 1 Southampton (1) 1
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Wednesday, 16th December 2020. Kick-off time: 6.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Mohamed Elneny, Dani Ceballos; Nicolas Pépé, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Alexandre Lacazette, Willian Borges da Silva, Alex Rúnarsson, Cédric Soares, Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Joe Willock.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (51 mins)
Red Cards: Gabriel Magalhães
Yellow Cards: Dani Ceballos,
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 35%
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistant Referees: Dan Cook, Sian Massey-Ellis
Fourth Official: Andre Marriner
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Craig Pawson; AVAR Neil Davies
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
As London has moved into Tier Three (as per the UK Government’s guidelines), none of our supporters are allowed into the Emirates to watch matches until further notice. Ho hum. Anyway, for tonight, (the first of two exclusive matches to be shown on Amazon Prime Video), Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin are serving suspensions and are unavailable for this evening’s match; however, Nicolas Pépé has now served his, and is available for selection, as is David Luiz, who finds himself on the substitute’s bench. Unfortunately, Thomas Partey is still on the injured list, but may be available for the Everton game on Saturday afternoon. Now, these are the facts, Jack, and it doesn’t make good reading. Sadly, twelve hours and twenty-six minutes have passed without the team scoring a goal in the Premiership from open play, and Arsenal have lost four straight home matches in the Premiership for the first time in sixty-one years, equalling the club record, and our total of thirteen points from twelve matches represents Arsenal’s worst start to a season since 1974, when we finished sixteenth in a twenty-two club First Division (three places above Tottenham Hotspur). And if those depressing statistics do not fire the team up tonight to change matters, then in heaven’s name, nothing will. Let’s go!
A fairly sluggish start from both sides, with the most worrying incident being Bukayo Saka receiving attention from the physio after a nasty knock to his knee. He recovered, and we managed to press Southampton into their own half, and although the visitors played their way out of trouble, it was still good to see our chaps attacking the ball with purpose so early on in the game. Eddie Nketiah broke into the Saints penalty area from the left, but his shot was saved easily by Alex McCarthy, and a minute or so later, ex-Gunner Theo Walcott ran onto a ball from Che Adams between Keiran Tierney and Gabriel, and simply chipped the ball over Bernd Leno to give the visitors the lead after just eighteen minutes. Southampton certainly felt the wind in their sails now, and most of the action was in our half, and our play started to be one of a holding one, almost containment. However, just before the half hour, Nicolas Pépé had a shot blocked in the Saints penalty area, and the subsequent loose ball was blasted over the bar by Dani Ceballos. Although the visitors were playing the quicker football, we had our moments. Dani Ceballos was brought down in the penalty area, and although our appeals for a penalty were denied, we started to link some interesting play before the break, a Dani Ceballos ball found Nicolas Pépé just inside the penalty area, and he hit the ball sweetly with his left foot, but it was easily retrieved by goalie Alex McCarthy. Although we went into half time one-down, it was not as bad a performance as it could have been.
And so the second half started in earnest, and we certainly started to play a lot better; after six minutes, it happened. Bukayo Saka twisted and turned in from the left, passed it to Eddie Nketiah, who laid a quick ball into the path of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who scored the equaliser with some aplomb. At last. The goal certainly livened up proceedings, and the match started to be quicker in pace, with some real end-to-end stuff. On the hour, Bukayo Saka was unlucky not to score when an excellent shot from outside the box was parried by Alex McCarthy, and the resulting corner petered out into nothing. Unbelievably and pointlessly, Gabriel pulled back Theo Walcott near the half-way line, and as it was a second booking, he was dismissed, and for the second match in succession, we were down to ten men. And so restructure began, with Eddie Nketiah making way for the now-recovered David Luiz to strengthen the back line, and a couple of minutes later, Dani Ceballos was substituted for Joe Willock with twenty-five minutes of the match remaining. We were fortunate not to concede a second goal when Nathan Redmond hit our crossbar from close range, and the extra man for the visitors started to work in their favour now. Time and time again, wave after wave of Southampton shots rained down on our goal, but Bernd Leno and the defence held firm. With six minutes of the match remaining, Cédric Soares replaced Nicolas Pépé to shore up the defence, and we certainly needed that extra man at the back as the visitors applied extreme pressure on us. How unlucky! Rob Holding headed a ball onto the Saints bar from a free-kick two minutes into injury time, and to think that he was just a few inches away from grabbing a late winner. But a draw it finished, and at least we grabbed a point, which is certainly better than nothing.
There were times when it looked like we were going to lose another match, and to be fair, we were truly awful. But then again there were times when we strung passes together and looked good. Then came the dismissal, which changed absolutely everything in a heartbeat. Mikel Arteta was forced, yet again, to remake and remodel the team, which he must get sick of playing that card, so late in the match for the second game running. Anyway, we got a point, and that is surely a start.
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: Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, 19th December at 5.30pm (Premier League). 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.