Arsenal 2 – 1 Southampton
Three points are three points. Arsène rolled the dice ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Paris and escaped with a win. It doesn’t matter – from our point of view – whether it was soft, whether or not those decisions are given in other games. The ref gave it yesterday and Santi Cazorla buried it. Straight down the middle; nerves of steel.
Three points which with other results, proved most welcome. It was far from a convincing performance from the team. There was a hint of the post-international break about it; passes fluctuated between good and ‘goodness me, what happened there?’
Positives? Of course. Shkodran Mustafi settled well, look pretty comfortable and there were signs that he and Laurent Koscielny will be a decent partnership. The Frenchman’s goal; what can you say – it was sublime technique, particularly for a centre back. Others have suggest it might have been disallowed for dangerous play but unless the boot makes contact with a head, how can anything be dangerous?
Southampton will feel aggrieved. They had the early luck when Tadic’s free-kick found the net via Cech’s back. That after he had made a fine save to touch it onto the bar. Sometimes it just isn’t your day. But Long was fouled in the build-up to the penalty and most referees would have stopped the game for Koscielny’s head injury just before the penalty was awarded.
The game was a familiar tale of possession; pass, pass, pass, but there was a lack of end product. A lot of that was down to the Saints defending; (un)timely interceptions cut a pass or cross out, all too often for Lucas Perez’s liking. The Spaniard tried hard and never stopped running but ultimately, it was a solid début. A hint of promise but the epitome of the team performance.
Granit Xhaka and Alexis were rested, along with Olivier Giroud who joined the fray in the second half. I expect the trio to begin in Paris. We missed the former pair particularly, with the fluency of the Swiss international’s passing particularly missed.
Alexis involvement was welcome. Oxlade-Chamberlain tried hard but failed to deliver. It’s becoming a theme of his play, suggesting that he has a confidence issue which is affecting him. Wenger needs to work on that because as much as I like him, as much as I think he can be a great player in the future, his self-doubt, self-criticism, is hindering his progress
Arsène summed up what we all thought afterwards:
It’s a relief. When you lose your first home game, you cannot afford to drop points in the second home game because it creates a little bit of anxiety at home and that’s not what we really want. In the second half I felt we dominated well again and created many dangerous situations but couldn’t score.
We need to get those answers to the scoring problem sorted. Quickly. Others – United, City, Chelsea – are in form, showing their title credentials. Tottenham are hitting a groove, Liverpool showed that they can do so as well. Whilst that pair have shown the capacity to crumble over the years, we have to stop relying on others weaknesses and build on our strengths.
Last year’s second place was gifted in the end; Tottenham chose to collapse once their title chances went south – or north if you have a geographic OCD inclination. You might argue that we timed our run to perfection but that stretches the point and we know it.
That’s the nagging doubt. We have yet to hit our stride, not shown any sign of fluency in our. There’s a valid point to argue that international break and the summer tournaments have impacted negatively. Introducing two new players into the team yesterday also influenced the performance but I would expect more cohesion from the team if there were genuine title pretensions. I don’t think there are, as I’ve said before, and a lot of hard work lies ahead if the top four is to be achieved.
The pairing of Cazorla and Coquelin worked well in tandem but Xhaka adds a different dimension as we saw at Watford. In a game such as yesterday, it’s difficult to break down the opposition who were well-drilled in their defensive duties, with a predictable style.
Things move up a notch with a regular flow of games over the next four weeks or so and we may solve some of those issues in that time. We’ll certainly have a better idea of the team’s capabilities at the end of this spell and where the work needs to be done to make this a (relatively) successful season.