The old saying: Work smart, not hard, summarises Arsenal’s performance against Southampton at the weekend.
It was crucial to not lose the game after the somewhat, undeserved defeat to Manchester United before the international break. Southampton have had a very impressive defensive record this season but the loss of Lovren was a huge blow.
Arsenal were boosted by the return of Theo who, though fit, started the game on the bench. Wenger went with the combination of Wilshere, Ozil, Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla in midfield which suggested he wanted to play a very tactical and narrow game against Pochettino’s side.
The Saints defended well in the first half though they seemed to lack a plan whenever they found themselves with possession in Arsenal’s half. The Gunners couldn’t get a momentum going in the first half while conceding a worryingly large number of corners and set pieces. There was a sense that if Southampton were going to score, it would come from a set piece.
Southampton also forced a couple of good saves from Szczesny though the signs for Arsenal were positive as they limited to opposition to long range shots.
The key moment in the game was Giroud’s goal. I will save describing the rather comical incident as the goal has been repeatedly played on several places and added to the collections of goalkeeping mishaps.
It was the key moment as firstly, until that point, the away side were content with keeping the score at 0-0. They had confidence in their defending ability yet, that moment changed everything and Southampton found themselves in a situation where they would have to play more expansively.
Another reason it was a key moment is because the incident highlighted Southampton’s weakness of crumbling under pressure. Wenger certainly took notes throughout the first half and his side came out with in the second half with a very clear plan on how to secure the 3 points.
Southampton struggled to get themselves into the game in the second half. Every occasion the Saints ventured into the Arsenal half, the player on the ball came under immense pressure, especially from the likes of Ramsey and Wilshere. This was not helped by Boruc’s consistently poor distribution throughout the game.
In the end, it was a deserved victory and the Gunners are continuing to prove the doubters wrong. Arsenal have received a lot of unfair criticism after the defeat at Old Trafford where I felt we were unlucky to not come away with a draw.
And Giroud was quite comfortably the man of the match. Aside from his 2 goals, he worked tirelessly up front, always creating space and being a thorn for the opposition defence. The dashboard below shows Giroud won possession in the Arsenal box 4 times which is very good defensive work for a striker and the Frenchman is also repaying Wenger’s faith with goals and assists.
A final word on referee Mark Clattenburg who had a very poor game: There was a moment in the first half when he stopped the play for offside while Arsenal had an advantage to attack on the break. The frustration from the crowd was heard all around and Clattenburg looked to the skies with a constipated face in despair at his own call. Not only did that sum up his performance, it has been quite consistent with the level of refereeing in the Premier League this season. We have suffered the Anthony Taylor treatment against Villa at the start of the season and Clattenburg’s performance yesterday is a reminder of that we have to be on top form to not let the officials define the results.