Southampton (1) 1 Arsenal (2) 3
St. Mary’s Stadium, Britannia Road, Southampton SO14 5FP
Tuesday, 26th January 2021. Kick-off time: 8.15pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, David Luiz, Cédric Soares; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Gabriel Magalhães, Willian Borges da Silva, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers, Mohamed Elneny, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Mat Ryan, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (8 mins), Bukayo Saka (38 mins), Alexandre Lacazette (72 mins)
Yellow Cards: Hector Bellerin, Nicolas Pépé
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 42%
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistant Referees: Simon Beck, Eddie Smart
Fourth Official: Keith Stroud
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Robert Jones; AVAR Stephen Child
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
Look, it’s like this. Forget last Saturday’s debacle on this very ground in the FA Cup, just concentrate on tonight. Three points for either team will take them into eighth position in the Premiership, nothing else will do. We just have to ensure that it is us that are victorious tonight, in order to go into the Manchester United match at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon in a positive frame of mind. We do not want to start slipping back into those nasty habits that saw us hovering around the bottom half-dozen teams in the Premiership table before Christmas, and as we well know from bitter recent experience, with three points for a win, this system can be a good friend, but a harsh mistress. Let’s go!
Within a minute of the start, Alexandre Lacazette pounced on a mistake by the Southampton defence, and although he was certain to score, goalkeeper Alex McCarthy smothered the shot. Unbelievably, just two minutes later, a Southampton corner went to Stuart Armstrong, who made no mistake in scoring with a strong shot from just inside our penalty area. Not wishing to let the grass grow under our feet, five minutes later, an inch-perfect ball from Bukayo Saka (via Thomas Partey) between two Southampton defenders found Nicolas Pépé, who slotted it easily past Alex McCarthy to equalise the scores. Now we have a match! We started to take the game to Southampton now, with firm tackling and accurate passing, we looked unafraid to take chances on scoring more goals, with a snap shot from Cédric Soares going narrowly wide. Both sides were unlucky in not adding to their goal tally over the next ten minutes or so, with spirited chances denied by both goalkeepers, who were having a good game so far, and this was the cue for young Emile Smith-Rowe to take part in the action with clever passing and positioning in order to receive potential match-winning chances. By the half hour mark, the game started to become more dogged, with occasional breaks coming from both teams, trying to find a route through each other’s respeetive midfields. Arsenal started to have the edge here tonight, as evey time a Saints player had the ball, two of our men are present, and having won the ball, look for a goal-scoring opportunity, Six minutes before the break, Bukayo Saka ran onto a Alexandre Lacazette ball, and as Alex McCarthy comes out to challenge him, he went around the hapless goalie, kept his balance and neatly slotted it into the net to give us the lead here tonight. A couple of minutes before half-time, Alexandre Lacazette had a penalty appeal turned down (double-checked by VAR) after an incident in the Southampton penalty area, and despite the home side putting us under a bit of pressure during the two minutes’ injury time, we went into the break deservedly in the lead.
We started the second half in earnest, with no changes made by Mikel Arteta. Both sides came out of the break absolutely flying; Bernd Leno superbly saved a strong shot from Theo Walcott, and by now strong tackles became the order of the day in the south coast rain tonight. Emile Smith-Rowe (who appears to have a free role in the second half) was unlucky when confronted with a one-on-one situation with the Saints goalie, but unfortunately his clever shot had no power, and it was easily cleared by a defender. A little while later, Hector Bellerin fired a dangerous ball across the face of the goal but Nicolas Pépé could not quite divert it goalwards from the near post. Just after the hour, Cédric Soares passed a superb 30-yard ball into the path of Bukayo Saka, but his spirited attempt went wide of the goal. The home side put us under pressure, and for a while we struggled to get out of our own half, and on a couple of occasions, the safe hands of Bernd Leno stopped the home side from equalising. With twenty minutes remaining, an injured Emile Smith-Rowe made way for Willian (after a mix-up that saw Nicolas Pépé get an undeserved yellow card for not hurrying off when asked to, which was bizarre to say the least), and less than a couple of minutes later, Cédric Soares passed an incredible 30-yard diagonal ball over to Bukayo Saka, who teed up Alexandre Lacazette with a first-time cross and he simply slotted it into the net from a yard out at the back post. An injured Thomas Partey was replaced by Mohamed Elneny with twelve minutes of the match remaining, and with the confidence that a two-goal cushion can give you, we consolidated and stayed solid, especially when David Luiz lost concentration, and Bernd Leno went down at the feet of Che Adams to save the day, as he did again a few minutes later, from a James Ward-Prowse free-kick that looked like it was heading goalbound when he acrobatically pushed the ball away past the incoming menace of Ibrahima Diallo. Amazing stuff. And still we kept on coming. In the five minutes’ injury time, Nicolas Pépé made way for Joe Willock, and if anything, our desire for victory became stronger. We managed to hold out to win despite a late rally for Southampton, but it was too little, too late for them, as we ran out deserved three-one winners here at St. Mary’s tonight.
Not only was that a well-deserved win for the chaps here at Southampton, but this was a third away win on the bounce for us. Some performances were truly inspiring tonight, particularly Bernd Leno, who kept us in the match on several occasions. and Cédric Soares, whose long-range passing was truly amazing. Alexandre Lacazette worked hard for the win, as did Bukayo Saka, who scored an incredible second goal. Certainly a superb performance (with a different line-up) tonight, one that takes us to eighth in the league. Well done, lads.
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: Manchester United at the Emirates on Saturday, 30th January 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.