Arsenal 3 – 2 Southampton
Three points are three points. In the context of this season, it’s the only way you can look at any Premier League fixture. We’re beyond wondering where we’ll finish or to an extent, even caring whether it’s sixth or seventh. Neither makes a difference beyond prize money; we’re in the third qualifying round of next season’s Europa League either way.
Indeed, if United’s experience last season is anything to go by, seventh place here we come.
Arsène has one advantage over Jose; when it comes to putting a tutu and lipstick on a pig of a season, Wenger is an expert.
Not that he can expect help from some of his squad. This match definitely falls into the ‘got away with it’ category. Post-match, he hinted that he didn’t need to strengthen his forward line, which having spent over £100m on two strikers this season ought to be a no-brainer.
It comes as a relief since we need to invest heavily in defence. Shkodran Mustafi flicks a switch in his head and goes from a decent central defender to park footballer instantly, sometimes in the same match. Yesterday, he pressed the big red button – the one marked “DO NOT PRESS” – which took any semblance of defensive sense from his body.
In a team which has a well-drilled back four, we could get away with carrying a passenger. We did so with Pascal Cygan, so Mustafi could be accommodated. But we don’t ‘do’ defence; it’s so passe. To some extent, we spent 90 minutes trying to prove that. Long had a goal chalked off being offside by a gnat’s whatsit.
Southampton are another team who will leave the Emirates thinking they can get out of trouble following their performance. We’re good like that; offering false hope.
The Good and the Bad Turns Ugly
It was a mixed afternoon, with the headlines changing in the space of a few minutes for Danny Welbeck. His first goal, with the aid of a slight deflection, underlined his value as a wide attacker in a not dissimilar fashion to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s goal in Milan.
Then we got the Danny we know and love when he contrived to miss from almost under the crossbar after Jack Wilshere’s only positive contribution for the afternoon when he hooked a ball which seemed destined to land out of play, across the face of the goal.
There’s no doubt about it; Wilshere’s form is tailing off. Tired? Nursing a knee injury? Disillusioned? Maybe it’s all three. Niggling, annoying and stroppy, it was little wonder Jack Stephens gave him a slap after Wilshere ripped his shirt. No surprise either that the Southampton centre-back saw Andre Marriner wave a red card in his direction.
That was the warning for other players. Keep your hands to yourself, watch your flailing elbows. Elneny capped a tidy performance by thrusting his hand into a Southampton neck. The Saints were sinners in trying to nick ten yards in a free-kick, provoking him. That’s no excuse for his actions nor that three of their X could have seen them finish with a VII, though fair points they may be.
Arsène talked about appealing the red card although it won’t happen. Instead, Ainsley Maitland-Niles has a return to the first-team in his favoured position.
Welbz’s completed his redemption. A far more difficult chance, he rose above the defence to score with some aplomb. He mentioned afterwards about keeping on plugging away, of how misses can’t distract you or prey on your mind. He has a fair bit of experience in this area…
Most of all, it’s job done. Wenger rotated and we took the points. Danny Welbeck got a brace which will do his confidence the world of good, standing us in good stead for the trip to Moscow this week. Alex Iwobi as well; he needed a good performance and gave one. It doesn’t completely redeem him, but he needed to show that he hadn’t lost his way completely.
We’re left with hints of good things in matches. Not enough to hang your hat on that a corner has been turned, that a new training regime was in place which could improve us. That fundamental change isn’t going to happen until there is a change not only at the top but also in the core coaching staff.
While we’re on the subject of fundamental changes, here’s a long-form article I penned George Graham: Building the Foundations of Arsene Wenger’s Success.