Southampton (1) 1 Arsenal (0) 0
St. Mary’s Stadium, Britannia Road, Southampton SO14 5FP
Saturday, 16th April 2022. Kick-off time: 3.00pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Cédric Soares, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Nuno Tavares; Martin Ødegaard, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Emile Smith-Rowe, Rob Holding, Nicolas Pépé, Mohamed Elneny, Miguel Azeez, Mazeed Ogungbo, Zak Swanson, Omari Hutchinson.
Yellow Cards: Ben White
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 76%
Referee: Peter Bankes
Assistant Referees: Neil Davies, Timothy Wood
Fourth Official: Andre Marriner
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Stuart Attwell; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
Of course, we now know that Takehiro Tomiyasu is still out of contention with a calf injury, Kieran Tierney’s injury is serious enough for him to miss the rest of the season and similarly, there is a possibility that Thomas Partey could also not feature again this campaign, all of which are a major blow for a final push into the top four positions in the Premiership table in May, which in all reality, is not that far away. With regards to today’s match is concerned, although Alexandre Lacazette was expected to play (despite missing training yesterday), he has been left out of the squad for the trip to Southampton this afternoon. Emile Smith-Rowe is among the substitutes, with Nuno Tavares and Gabriel Martinelli getting the nod to start at St. Mary’s Stadium.
This match is the first of five away games that we have remaining in the Premiership this season, and as such, this may not be a simple “cut and paste” job today here on the South Coast. Within minutes of the start, we nearly went a goal down when Armando Broja muscled his way in from the left wing and fired a low cross right across the face of Aaron Ramsdale’s goal, which only required a touch from a Southampton player to get us into trouble early on, but thankfully no-one was there to tap it into the net, which was a close call indeed. However, almost immediately, we came back at the home side, when Gabriel Martinelli fired a superb shot in at the Saints’ goal from the edge of the penalty area, which made Fraser Forster stretch to save. Again, after just a quarter of an hour, Yan Valery gave the ball away and we moved forward to attack quickly through Eddie Nketiah and then Gabriel Martinelli, who slotted a perfect low ball for Bukayo Saka to finish; he did everything right, great balance, superb shot like an arrow meeting a target, but Fraser Forster stuck out a hand to divert the ball over the bar, which was unbelievable as it looked a certain goal. Our hearts were literally in our mouths when Gabriel Martinelli went to ground following a strong tackle from Romain Perraud. He took a while to get to his feet and moved gingerly for a while afterwards. We do not need to lose another forward to injury and illness, least of all a player of his calibre at this point in the season. Just on the half hour, a race between Bukayo Saka (heading for the Southampton goal) and Lyanco made everyone in the stadium hold their breath, but our man was cruelly and cynically brought down by the Saints defender; unfortunately, the free-kick, which was taken by former Southampton player Cédric Soares, went wide for a goal-kick. A wasted opportunity. We were awarded another free-kick a couple of minutes later, when Nuno Tavares turned Yan Valery, who brought him down, and again, a Cédric Soares free-kick went nowhere near the Saints’ goal. Unbelievably, just before the half-time break, we just switched off and allowed the home side to take advantage. An initial corner was punched away by Aaron Ramsdale but the ball was quickly hooked back towards our penalty area, only for Mohamed Elyounoussi to get to it quickly and cross it low for Jan Bednarek to whack a shot past Aaron Ramsdale and into the roof of the net to put the home side in the driving seat at the break.
Soon after the second half started, we brought the match to the home side, with a good movement that ended up with Nuno Tavares geting forward and firing a shot wide of Fraser Foster’s goal. Yan Valery blocked a good shot from Eddie Nketiah a couple of minutes later, and all of a sudden, the Saints broke out of their half and we had to dig in to see off the threat from them, with Mohamed Elyounoussi and Stuart Armstrong battling for the ball in the box before the latter’s shot was blocked by Ben White. After a period of relative inaction, just after the hour mark, Emile Smith-Rowe replaced a fatigued Cédric Soares in order for us to push ahead and get an equaliser here. Our tails were up now, when Emile Smith-Rowe entered the fray; so much so, that after some good play, Bukayo Saka cut in from the right and fired an excellent effort just past Fraser Foster’s far post. We then applied a lot of pressure on the Saints’ goal, but we were really struggling to break the home side down. A beleaguered Nuno Tavares was substituted for Nicolas Pépé with twenty minutes of the game remaining, and shortly after his arrival on the pitch, Fraser Forster was again on the spot to pull out a stunning save; somehow he reacted to tip away Emile Smith-Rowe’s follow-up finish after the ball dropped following an aerial challenge in the Southampton penalty area after an Arsenal corner. With just under fifteen minutes of the match remaining, our desperation to score was becoming evident to everyone in the stadium now. Bukayo Saka’s right-footed shot from the right side of the penalty area was saved in the centre of the goal, and a mimute or so late, Bukayo Saka played a major part in assisting Martin Ødegaard’s attempt to score, when his left-footed shot from the centre of the Saints’penalty area went very close, but went wide of the goal to the right hand side of the post. With five minutes of the game remaining, Granit Xhaka’s strong shot took a deflection and was heading for the back of the net, but Fraser Foster composed himself and pulled off a diving save with one hand. Our pressure was becoming intense with both Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard shooting wide from close range, and in the first minute of five minutes’ injury time, Ben White was awarded a yellow card for a foul by referee Peter Bankes, which was pointless, really. Aaron Ramsdale kept us in the match with an incredible save from a free-kick taken by James Ward-Prowse, and literally on the stroke of full-time Gabriel’s header, (courtesy of Martin Ødegaard) from the centre of the penalty area was saved fairly easily by Fraser Foster. Just seconds later, Referee Peter Bankes blew the whistle signalling the end of the match. Could this be also signalling the end of our top four ambitions for this season too?
How can this be? With seventy-six percent possession, and twenty-three shots on the Southampton goal, along with six goals on target, we have just lost the third Premiership match in sequence, having lost four out of the past five games. The last time that we lost three in a row was in “Bloody” August at the beginning of the season; this is not the time to start taking a serious dip in form. We have taken just four points from losing positions this season, and our next three Premiership matches, as if we need reminding, are against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening, and Manchester United at the Emirates next Saturday lunchtime, followed by West Ham United at the London Stadium the Sunday afternoon after that. And to make matters even worse, if West Ham United defeat Burnley tomorrow afternoon, then at this point in time then, we could be lying seventh in the Premiership table; and yet, a couple of weeks ago, we appeared to be a dead cert for fourth place at the end of the campaign. It is now looking decidedly dodgy, to say the least, from now until the end of the season, as the results from the next few matches not only will define our season, but could also be pivotal for the future of the manager also. The failure to capitalise fully in the January transfer window may well have cost us dear, and a quick look at the Premiership table is not standing up to scrutiny for any of us. It’s going to be a very rocky ride indeed.
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: Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, 20th April 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