Arsenal 1 – 2 Southampton
1 – 0 Sanchez (13)
1 – 1 Tadic pen (20)
1 – 2 Clyne (39)
Two first half goals were enough to give Southampton victory at The Emirates last night. Arsenal were undone by a mix of experience and Nathaniel Clyne’s excellent strike. Some are questioning David Ospina which is understandable given it flew into the centre of the goal but like Thierry Henry’s winner against Manchester United at Highbury, the ball moved in the air considerably. Coupled with the power of the shot, it is a moment for tipping your hat to the scorer rather than seeking a scapegoat although criticism that there was no pressure from the defence as Clyne took aim, is not misplaced.
Did it win Goal of the Match? It’s debatable and the decision probably depends on the colour of your club’s shirt. Alexis Sanchez’s thirteenth minute free kick was equally exquisite in its execution; dipping, swerving, it peaked as it passed over the wall and plateaued into the side of the net, leaving Forster admiring the Chilean’s artistry with the same reverence a visitor to The Tate holds for the works on display.
But Arsenal were architects of their own downfall with Tomas Rosicky’s needlessly rash challenge conceding a penalty quickly after Sanchez had settled nerves. Had Arsenal held theirs, it would have been a different contest, one where the visitors composure would have been tested. As it was, Southampton deserved the victory and in moments of truth, we will concede the margin of that win should probably have been wider.
Losing is never easy to take and even though the competition is lowest on Arsène’s list of priorities for the season, a cup run is good for building momentum and giving youngsters the chance to learn their trades. Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden confirmed their potential and the back four put in good individual performances. The absence of Mertesacker and Koscielny’s experience meant cohesion was lacking; the natural leader of the pack has yet to emerge.
Arsène noted the injury concerns ahead of the weekend’s visit of Tottenham. Mertesacker and Gibbs have no choice but to be fit as the defence has taken something of a pounding in that respect. With Debuchy absent, the right has cover but the same is not true of the left. Monreal’s injury leaves Arsenal exposed and the absence of a versatile central defender to cover gives little option but to play Coquelin out of position. Square pegs, round holes; the folly of the summer is perilously close to costing Arsenal dear.
In the middle of the park, Abou Diaby’s return garnered most attention. The former French international, whilst not imperious, certainly enjoyed a dominant role in the hour or so he was on the pitch, all of which is very encouraging but any thoughts of a sustained run in the side seem premature. The best planning Arsène can undertake in that respect is the next game, nothing more.
The biggest disappointment for me was the underperformance of players with a point to prove. Lukas Podolski was largely anonymous in his contribution whilst Joel Campbell was fitful and unsurprisingly substituted. Actually the only surprise was that Podolski didn’t depart first. I think those two and to a lesser extent Tomas Rosicky, highlight the difficulties squad players face. It is hard enough to come into the side at the best of times but to an XI of strangers, the need to hit the ground running is even more important.
Add into that mix players who probably realise their futures lie elsewhere and you get one of two responses; excellence or ineffectiveness. We got the latter from the German and a Costa Rican who tried hard to be the former but ended with the latter as well. Neither advanced their cause and to be honest, it is hard to envisage either playing more than a bit part before the FA Cup defence begins. Even then, neither will play centrally if Sanogo is fit whilst injury at that time will surely see Chuba Akpom given a chance. It would be hard for him to be any more invisible.
You sense this is close to how Arsène feels. He resolutely refused to be drawn on individual performances beyond praise for the youngsters. Experienced pros who don’t impress him have developed a habit of disappearing the following summer.
Other than that, there isn’t much to say on the performance. Disappointingly, there were few opportunities created in the second half. Southampton were rarely put under concerted pressure and even as the dying embers of the match flickered under the floodlights, Arsenal were more likely to succumb to a third goal than equalise. Arsène admitted to a similar disappointment.
Some will argue that it is only the League Cup, we are better off without its interference with the fixture list. I understand and would not necessarily disagree with that viewpoint. Despite the contempt in which it is held, the competition serves a purpose and provides a grounding for young players to prepare them for the first team. It was obvious from his comments that Ronald Koeman was bringing a string side and the wisdom of fielding a team of strangers is questionable.
I know the upcoming fixtures are more important from the manager’s point of view but being realistic, we have more chance of winning the League Cup than the Premier League or Champions League. At the moment, domestic cups are the best route to success whilst Arsène constructs a squad. At the moment, we have all our eggs in one basket. A top three finish is not beyond Arsenal but the performance in Dortmund suggests that old habits have not yet died no matter how hard the players are trying. Closing last season’s seven point gap is a realistic aim but overhauling it? We will know more by the time of the next international break.
But if you are realistic – and old enough to remember – it’s the same as the late 70s but with more money. And better football before anyone comments.
As it is, attention focuses on the North London Derby and Chelsea with the small matter of Galatasaray in between. Season defining matches? Hardly but certainly influential in its outcome.