Arsenal (2) 3 Southampton (0) 0
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 11th December 2021. Kick-off time: 3.00pm
(4-4-4-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli; Martin Ødegaard; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Emile Smith-Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Eddie Nketiah, Arthur Okonkwo.
Scorers: Alexandre Lacazette (21 mins), Martin Ødegaard (27 mins), Gabriel (62 mins)
Yellow Cards: Gabriel, Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%
Referee: Jarred Gillett
Assistant Referees: Adam Nunn, Neil Davie
Fourth Official: Anthony Taylor
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Michael Oliver; AVAR Scott Ledger
After the disaster at Goodison Park last Monday, we are at home today against Southampton, and pound for pound, they are a team that we are capable of beating (in theory). The trouble is, quite bluntly, which Arsenal will turn up this afternoon? Utilising a 4-4-4-1 formation, and with Emile Smith-Rowe on the bench, we have to say that anything can happen! Very frustrating times for Mikel Arteta, the players and supporters too. Anyway, we’ll soon know the answer at 4.45pm this afternoon.
Quite a lively start with both sides trying each other’s defences out with some probing football, and very quickly Southampton had us under pressure with the ball not travelling outside our half for the first ten minutes. Gabriel was booked in the sixth minute, and Adam Armstrong’s right footed shot from the left side of the box was well saved by Aaron Ramsdale as it headed towards the bottom left corner. The visitors were certainly causing us some problems, and our only chance to try to change this situation was to break out, which we did successfully from time to time. Bukayo Saka brought down a Southampton player just outside the penalty area and the subsequent free-kick from Kyle Walker-Peters went way over the Arsenal bar thankfully. On the twenty-first minute, some clever passing play by us found the feet of Bukayo Saka out on the right hand side, who coolly slotted the ball into the visitors’ penalty area for Alexandre Lacazette to score the opening goal of the afternoon with his trusty right foot. The goal appeared to wake us up somewhat, and we now started to play with confidence, stroking the ball around, and finding our players fairly easily. Six minutes later, we scored a second goal, when the ball came across from the right hand side again, which found the head of Kieran Tierney, who headed the ball across the goal for Martin Ødegaard to score a well-taken headed goal from close range. With two goals to the good, and before the half hour mark as well, we are in control and looking very confident indeed. Alexandre Lacazette nearly grabbed a second goal for himself when a through ball came to his feet in the Saints’ penalty area, only for him to be denied by a last minute tackle from Tino Livramento. Bukayo Saka was also unlucky not to score a minute or so later, when a clever backheel from Martin Ødegaard found him in the visitors’ penalty area, but his strong shot was tipped over the bar by Willy Caballero. In the three minutes’ injury time of the first half, a Southampton free-kick went over Aaron Ramsdale’s bar courtesy of the wall, which held firm from a strong James Ward-Prowse shot. Although we managed to get a corner on the stroke of half-time, the match paused with the score being two up to the Gunners.
Within a minute of the restart, Granit Xhaka’s left-footed shot from outside the penalty area went high and wide to the left of the Saints’ goal. The visitors made an attempt on our goal quite early on in the second half, but we superbly played our way out of the problem, and over on the right-hand side, Takehiro Tomiyasu covered a lot of ground to pick up the loose pass, and also when he ran back to cover when Southampton moved forward. Some good play led to Martin Ødegaard blasting a shot over the visitors’ bar from twenty yards, and a couple of minutes’ later, Aaron Ramsdale made a superb save from Nathan Tella, which looked quite dangerous. However, the momentum was ours, as we came forward to try to add to the score time and time again. Just before the hour mark, Gabriel got the ball into the net, but it was chalked off for offside; however, two minutes later, a Gabriel Martinelli corner saw Gabriel rise up and head the ball home for our third goal of the match. Excellent. We are in complete control now; after the restart, Gabriel Martinelli found himself outside the box when he struck the bar with a curling shot before Takehiro Tomiyasu was denied by a fine Willy Caballero save on the rebound. Bukayo Saka then hit the woodwork with an excellent shot, and with twenty minutes of the match remaining, goalscorer Gabriel was replaced by Rob Holding to shore up things at the back with fresh legs. We are playing out from the back (as usual) and are just stroking the ball around, looking extremely confident; but we nearly got caught out when a loose ball found Nathan Redmond and Aaron Ramsdale made an acrobatic save to deny the visitors a goalscoring chance. Despite this, and the relentless rain falling down from the North London sky, the match had become one-way traffic, and we looked commanding as the game descended into the last ten minutes or so. Granit Xhaka was replaced by Albert Sambi Lokonga, and we carried on regardless. With eight minutes of the match remaining, Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by Nicolas Pépé, and still we kept advancing looking for that elusive fourth goal. As the match died down, game management was the order of the day for us, and although we could have scored at any time, it appeared to be more important to stop Southampton scoring and to keep a clean sheet, although Bukayo Saka’s left-footed shot narrowly went past the post virtually on the final kick of the game.
All the pre-match talk today was of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being dropped from the squad “due to a disciplinary breach”, but to be fair, who really cares? After an iffy start, we got a grip and took command of the match and in the end, we got the result we truly needed. It would be glib to say that “it was only Southampton” but that would show conceit and arrogance of the most highest order; as we have seen, the Premiership is a sometimes impossible place to predict a result, let alone get one. Anyway, at this moment in time, we are fifth in the Premiership table, and our next match is West Ham United on Wednesday night. Now that will be interesting.
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: West Ham United at the Emirates on Wednesday, 15th December at 8.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. 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.