Southampton (0) 1 Arsenal (1) 1
St. Mary’s Stadium, Britannia Road, Southampton SO14 5FP
Sunday, 23rd October 2022. Kick-off time: 2.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, Takehiro Tomiyasu; Thomas Partey, Thomas Partey; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard (c), Gabriel Martinelli; Gabriel Jesus.
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Eddie Nketiah, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Fabio Vieira, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Reiss Nelson, (Marcus Vinicius Oliveira Alencar) Marquinhos, Matt Turner.
Scorers: Granit Xhaka (11 mins)
Yellow Cards: Nicolas Jover (set-piece coach), Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 60%
Referee: Robert Jones
Assistant Referees: Lee Betts, Ian Hussin
Fourth Official: Thomas Bramall
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Peter Bankes; AVAR Derek Eaton
After Thursday night’s victory against PSV Eindhoven at the Emirates in the Europa League, we return to our bread-and-butter matches in the Premiership; today we are the guests of Southampton on the south coast. We go into this afternoon’s match having the best defensive away record in the Premiership this season, conceding just three goals and keeping four clean sheets; Arsenal are also the only side to have scored in every Premier League game this campaign, and amazingly, we have equalled our best ever record of nine wins from our opening ten Premiership matches in a season, a statistic which was set way back in 1903-04, when were playing in the old Second Division.
Within a minute of the kick-off, we had a fantastic chance to open the scoring, but Gabriel Jesus was deemed to be offside as he forced a save from goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, and a minute or so later, a deceiving Bukayo Saka cross flew just wide of the far post. The home side came back at us, and as an Amad Diallo shot went straight into the arms of Aaron Ramsdale, it was still an early warning sign for us not to be complacent today. Granit Xhaka found club captain Martin Ødegaard, but his shot went wide from outside the box; however, on the eleventh minute, Ben White crossed from the right wing and Granit Xhaka, near the penalty spot, hit it perfectly with a first-time volley which absolutely flew into the back of the net, certainly a contender for goal of the month, no doubt about that. After the goal was scored, we were in complete comannd of the match, opening up the Southampton defence at will; with regards to the personal little battles that always appear in a game, Granit Xhaka was brushing away James Ward-Prowse, whilst Gabriel Martinelli was pinning back Romain Perraud along with Mohamed Elyounoussi as well, so there was plenty of space for Granit Xhaka to dominate proceedings in the midfield. Gabriel Jesus’ left-footed shot from the left hand side of the Southampton penalty area was close, but sadly, his effort narrowly missed the goal. Unjustly, Bukayo Saka was booked for diving on the edge of the penalty area; Duje Caleta-Car stuck a leg out and the referee decided there was not enough contact for him to go down, so he was booked for simulation, unfortunately with no right of appeal. Despite the home side attempting to come back at us, we were comfortable both on and off of the ball. Referee Robert Jones then got in the way of a Saints’ attack and had to give them a drop ball; Gabriel Jesus wanted to go in for it and Martin Ødegaard had to push him away, which was comical, really. With four minutes of the first half remaining, Thomas Partey tried a through ball, but Gabriel Martinelli was caught offside by the referee, and then a superb shot by Gabriel Jesus was blocked by Mohammed Salisu and although there was some good play in the injury time period of the first half, we went into the break one goal ahead.
The second half started with much anticipation from both sides, and although Romain Perraud had a shot on Aaron Ramsdale’s goal, it flew wide of his post, and all things considered, it was a minor threat. The match went a wee bit flat, with lots of good passing movements by both sides, but no real attempts on either goal, although it has to be said that our defenders were playing exceptionally well this afternoon, clearing their lines and neutralising some dangerous situations, which was heartening to see. Then suddenly, a long ball went into deep into the Saints’ half and their defender Duje Caleta-Car took a big risk on the edge of his own penalty area when he put his arms around Gabriel Jesus, and as they both went down to the ground together, amazingly referee Robert Jones appeared to ignore the challenge, which ultimately was a clear free-kick to us. A couple of minutes’ later, Gabriel Jesus ran on to a clever through ball from the halfway line, and advanced ointo the Saints goal, but just as he took a shot, Mohamed Elyounoussi literally came out of nowhere and blocked the goal-bound shot. After sixty-five minutes, the home side equalised when Mohamed Elyounoussi ran at our defence, slotted the ball to Stuart Armstrong, who merely guided the ball past Aaron Ramsdale and into the net to level the scores here at St. Mary’s this afternoon. The home side certainly felt more confident now, with more and more attempts on our goal, and with twenty minutes of the match remaining, Ben White and Gabriel Martinelli were replaced by Kieran Tierney and Eddie Nketiah by Mikel Arteta in order to try to score. Unbelievably, our set-piece coach Nicolas Jover was booked for kicking a plastic bottle near the touchline. Really? We have looked like we have taken our foot off the gas at this point in the game, and simply allowed the home side to get back into the match; having said that, Martin Ødegaard did get the ball into the Saints’ net with fourteen minutes of the match remaining, but unfortunately it was adjudged (correctly, it has to be said), that Kieran Tierney’s cross was over the line when he crossed it, sadly. With eight minutes of the game remaining, a fatigued Martin Ødegaard (who handed the captain’s armband to Granit Xhaka via Eddie Nketiah) was replaced by Fabio Vieira, to try to inject more spark into the midfield, but as the game ebbed away, things were not looking like we were going to score a second goal today, as the players of both sides started to cancel each other out. In the five minutes’ injury time, Lyanco received a yellow card after reacting to a foul by Eddie Nketiah, and although we had one or two chances, the match finished in a very disappointing draw.
Although we are still top of the league, it is now only two points between Manchester City and ourselves, which is too close for comfort, really. With eleven shots against Southampton (three actually on goal), along with sixty per cent possession, we have to learn to kill the game off when we are dominating matches. The first half was so one-sided, that we should have put the match completely out of reach for the Saints, but we dithered and dallied, went to sleep at times, and lost the moment completely. Still, the positives are that we came away with a point, and as our greatest ever manager Herbert Chapman used to say “every team goes onto the field with a point, and what we have we hold. Why give it away carelessly?” That may well be the case, but this was a clear issue of an opportunity lost here at St. Mary’s Stadium this afternoon.
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: PSV Eindhoven at Philipsstadion, Eindhoven, Netherlands on Thursday, 27th October at 5.45pm(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