Match Report: Southampton 1 – 0 Arsenal

Southampton (1) 1 Arsenal (0) 0

FA Cup Fourth Round

St. Mary’s Stadium, Britannia Road, Southampton SO14 5FP

Saturday, 23rd January 2021. Kick-off time: 12.15pm

(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Cédric Soares; Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Willian Borges da Silva, Gabriel Martinelli; Eddie Nketiah, 

Substitutes: Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Rúnarsson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Thomas Partey, Calum Chambers, David Luiz, Joe Willock, Mat Ryan.

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%

Referee: Peter Bankes

Assistant Referees: Neil Davies, James Mainwaring

Fourth Official: Graham Scott

VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR David Coote; AVAR Stephen Child

Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions

It’s funny how the fixtures fall isn’t it? We play Southampton twice in roughly eighty hours at their place on the not-so-balmy south coast, the first of which forms the next instalment of our defence of the FA Cup at fifteen minutes past noon today. Good to see Gabriel Martinelli getting a start, as well as Eddie Nketiah in the main striker role, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not available today due to a personal issue. Also on the bench, is goalkeeper Mat Ryan, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion; the winners of this match meet Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux in Round Five. All to play for!. Let’s go!

The home side certainly took the match to us in the opening stages of the game, with James Ward-Prowse’s corner bouncing off our crossbar from a corner after just eight minutes, which was a close shave indeed. This has the makings of a great FA Cup match, with some breathtaking end-to-end play out there. Gabriel Martinelli and Saints old boy Cédric Soares made good, strong attempts on the Southampton goal, whilst at our end, Bernd Leno made a superb save from Danny Ings; a lesser goalkeeper may not have even attempted such an athletic operation. After twenty-four minutes, we were a goal down when James Ward-Prowse slotted a ball to Kyle Walker-Peters out on the right, who fired it low across the six-yard box which was deflected off Gabriel (whilst Bernd Leno was blindsided with the menacing presence of Che Adams) on its way into our net. This goal quite naturally fired up the home team, who applied more pressure on us, and we certainly struggled to even walk out of our own half, let alone play out of it. We managed to counter-attack about ten minutes before the break, when Gabriel Martinelli slotted the ball to Willian, who passed to Nicolas Pépé, but his shot was blocked before a clever chip towards Cédric Soares was beyond his outstretched leg. Unfortunately, from then on up until the half-time break, Southampton pressurised us, and somehow, we managed to hold out until Peter Bankes’ whistle signalled the end of the half.

The beginning of the second half appeared to be a continuum of the first, with Southampton being entirely on the front foot, with us struggling to get going. We got badly caught when Danny Ings run on from a long ball, and using his pace, left Rob Holding and Gabriel for dust, and his resulting shot hit the post, bounced off Bernd Leno and spun off behind the line. Good job he was offside, otherwise it could have been embarrassing. The Southampton forwards were all over our defence like a disease, and there does not appear to be anything we can do to address this issue at this point in time. We need to get a grip here at St. Mary’s, and quickly, too. Thomas Partey replaced an anonymous Mohamed Elneny, and Gabriel Martinelli was substituted for Bukayo Saka, just before the hour to mix things up a bit out there. Almost immediately, the changes started to make a difference. Eddie Nketiah was desperately unlucky not to score after sixty-seven minutes, when his clever shot was pushed away by Fraser Forster in the Saints’ goal, after a pinpoint pass by Nicolas Pépé. In a desperate measure to chase the game, Alexandre Lacazette replaced Hector Bellerin with twenty minutes of the match remaining, and despite the changes, we still looked decidedly lackustre out there today. With Gabriel playing up front, and the shuffle that only a substitution can give, we looked terribly exposed at the back. As the match edged towards it’s obvious conclusion, Alexandre Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah and Nicolas Pépé all had chances in the last quarter of an hour, but they all came to nothing. In fact, in the three minutes’ injury time, Eddie Nketiah bustled his way into the Saints’ penalty area after a clever flick-on from Willian. Unfortunately with a couple of Southamtpon defenders moving in on him, he sliced the shot and it went just wide of the right post and over, and along with out, went our defence of the FA Cup, on a cold and sunny afternoon on the south coast.

So disappointing, so deflated, such an anti-climax, and in some ways we were extremely fortunate not to lose by a greater margin. We may well have had the greater possession statistics, but we all know that when it comes down to it, goals win matches, not percentages. Unfortunately, Mikel Arteta gambled and lost with the seven changes on the teamsheet today, as some players looked decidedly off the pace somewhat. We looked uncomfortable, second-rate and completely adrift from this match, which to be fair, the home side showed the greater intent right from the start. Let us hope for a different result, with an alternate line-up for the Premiership match at the same stadium on Tuesday evening.

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: Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday, 26th January at 8.00pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Steve

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.

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