Saints Review: Self-Inflicted Wounds Kill Ambition

Southampton 3 – 2 Arsenal

Defeat was inevitable at some point and Unai Emery is too long in the footballing tooth not to know it. Even with an embarrassment of riches in Paris, his teams still lost. That’s football; this morning, however, the sting of defeat comes from the manner in which we lost.

Emery himself contributed with his team selection. Granit Xhaka as the left-sided centre-back was an experiment which didn’t work. We were outfought in midfield during the first half and in the second when we needed some impetus, Mesut Ozil arrived instead of Aaron Ramsey. Not every tactical switch can have the desired effect.

Yet had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had his shooting boots on, we might have salvaged a point or more. An off-day at both ends of the pitch. It could be worse; we might be Manchester United fans licking their wounds this morning. Anyone who thinks throwing Wednesday night is a good idea might like to consider Thursday morning in their rationale first.

Laurent Koscielny is the pantomime villain; hung, drawn and quartered, before being left dangling at Traitor’s Gate for the crows to pick at.

He didn’t enjoy the best of returns to the first-team. Then again, playing with a right-back and midfielder in a back three was hardly the combination he expected.

However, each of the three goals came from defensive errors, there’s no way to pretty things up. Not just from the back three; everyone certainly contributed in their own big way.

Koscielny must hold his hands up for the first; it highlighted his rustiness with Ings scoring the first of three headed goals. We didn’t stop a good cross from coming in, leaving Ings to give it the finish the ball deserved.

One-down without any panic setting in.

Where Was Our Saviour?

That laissez-faire attitude was almost justified five minutes later when Henrikh Mkhitaryan met Nacho Monreal’s cross to head home the equaliser. One-all and the second half still to come; things weren’t looking so bad after all.

Until two minutes before the interval. Not only did Ings grab his second but we lost Hector Bellerin to injury. That was after Guendouzi and Iwobi allowed Redmond all the time in the world to deliver another excellent cross. Ings again applied the finish.

It was a move which summed up our first half performance. Not at the races for most of the opening twenty minutes, the equaliser knocked the stuffing out of Southampton. Yet they regrouped, responded and I hope Unai Emery read us the riot act at the interval.

At this point, I expected Ramsey to appear, switching to a flat-back four. Instead, it was Lacazette who added a bit of a goal-threat but for the first time since Chelsea, there was no second-half onslaught. We continued to plod yet inexplicably found ourselves level. Mkhitaryan’s shot took the slightest of deflections but that was all it needed to wrong-foot the Southampton ‘keeper. Job done; now claim the points.

Except we then lost another defender to injury when Stephan Lichtsteiner came out of a foul worse for wear and limped off. Ainsley Maitland-Niles slotted in on the right.

Mesut Ozil appeared in the 70th minute as a substitute and was largely anonymous. It was a curious move; his form doesn’t dictate a place in the side and he isn’t going to make that much difference in 20 minutes. I’d prefer Ramsey’s energy and directness; he is much more of a goal threat and a problem for Southampton to solve.

Veni, Vidi, Cobblers…

Inevitably, Southampton scored a third; a comedy of errors which leaves Bernd Leno in a bad light. Minutes earlier, he’d pulled off a blinding save to stop the home side taking the lead. This time, however, he played like Jay Leno.

Veni, vidi, vici, it wasn’t. Veni, vidi, Oh god, I’m not going to make it, more like. Long charged to the penalty area, got the ball first as Leno back-peddled. At that point, a decent cross inevitably led to a goal; Austin at the far post applied the finish as Leno’s plea for ‘Go, go, Gadget arms’ fell on deaf ears.

The game was up. We knew it, they knew it; there was no second-half comeback. Unai was fresh out of miracles with the only consolation being that Shane Long failed to score.

Post-match, Emery accepted defeat phlegmatically. I get the impression he won’t be so forgiving behind closed doors. He did, however, make a salient point. “Our game today was very similar to how we have played before,” he said. Crucially adding, “but the result is different.”

Therein is the rub. We are no closer to being a first-half team than we were a month ago. It’s a problem which must be addressed if we are to challenge for the title in the future. No team wins the league in 19 games so why do we think it’s acceptable to play for 45 minutes.

As much as that is Emery’s overall responsibility, the players need to ask themselves why we are so poor during the first half in every match? It isn’t a coincidence, it’s a habit. Is there is a collective psychology at play to not concede defeat before half-time?

Whatever the case, we need to find a solution quickly.

’til Tomorrow.

45 thoughts on “Saints Review: Self-Inflicted Wounds Kill Ambition

  1. Great review Yogi.

    I think we can all agree that we have had a better then expected first half of the season and Emery has us playing like a team that is more then the sum of its parts. However we are still a 5th place team which I think is indicative of the talent gap in the squad that Emery inherited from the Wenger era. I was honestly surprised when I realized that we are on pace to concede more goals then any season during the Wenger era. Hopefully we can challenge for 4th place for the rest of this season but it’s going to take several transfer windows to rebuild the squad if we hope to challenge for the top of the table or make any deeper runs in the Champions league.

  2. Inept performance yesterday, by the team and manager, we have been riding our luck of late, and yesterday it ran out. Kos should have done better but so could many others we could have been tighter and stronger in midfield,
    Its great to see players being more physical and not being bullied as in the past, but trick is to do it without getting caught for yellow cards and suspensions.
    Agree with the question marks over selection and subs.
    Let’s see if we bounce back from this

  3. A throwback performance yesterday. Making sh!t strikers look world beaters once again.

    Koscielny is a million miles from match fit and his defending reverted to vintage ‘can’t defend against big strikers’. If his pace has gone he has nothing else to offer.

    Leno made a massive error for the 3rd goal. He’ll be lucky of he isn’t dropped.

    Ozil: that ‘performance’ just about summed him up yesterday. A latter day Charlie Nicholas without the excuse of being hung over. If we can get any money for him I would happily drive the transfer fee pound by pound to Highbury House.

  4. buckagh,

    May aspects to the carding problem.
    Not least is how necessary many of them have been…..Papas in particular.
    Changing systems and players has given many teams many runs at us , and there have been many good cards as a consequence. Until we get proactive midfield screening and dominant CBs, we’re gonna keep collecting them.

    Then there’s games like yesterday where Soton hack us to death for 20 minutes, don’t get a single card, and then by the time we react to this lack of control, he starts pulling them out. Just shit reffing.

    And then there’s the needless ones for ‘simulation’ . Interesting that we’ve been pinged ahead of AnyOne else, yet haven’t won many pennos. 1 really shit reffing performance .

  5. Pete the Thirst,

    That is my worry about Kos and why, while its great to have him, his biggest strengths are pace and quickness and if(we have seen those even prior to his injury) they have gone, he has very little to offer.

  6. Pete

    I think we can safely dismiss the idea that Ozil’s demotion to the bench was injury related. However, I wonder if Emery will give Ozil another chance to find a way to reengergize himself as an impact sub when we need to score. I am skeptical it will work but when you have a player on that sort of wage you have to try whatever you can to find a way to get some positive influence from him.

  7. I know we have won and drawn in all sorts of fashion during our 22 unbeaten run… lets not overact to our loss, 22 matches unbeaten means things are better than we thought and one defeat doesn’t mean ‘back to the drawing board’. Maybe its just the optimist in me but given our defender option coupled with Bellerin going down, should we have even expected our defense to half good. I mean Kos even before the injury was looking like he needed replaced, Lichtsteiner is not a CB nor is Xhaka. Sure our CB’s haven’t covered themselves in glory consistently this season but I imagine that with one of Sokaritis or Mustafi that match would have been different; they would have at least challenged for the headers.

  8. Hello all, thanks for the write up YW keep em coming and i will keep reading. Felt horrible watching the match yesterday, we were pending implosion the entire time. There is something i just cant put my hands on…

    Some matches it looks like we are 11 men against 15 men. We can barely pass the ball into dangerous areas, just pass around the back and then when we pass into advanced position we cough it up. Then our opposition… somehow they slice thru us like butter and are getting into dangerous positions. Yesterday we made it look so damn hard, and s’ampton made us pay. We have 3 CBs back there and somehow those crosses sneak thru our CB and land on the opponents head.

    We are entering that annual period where the matches come fast and we start dropping points, and players, with each match. Lets hope we can continue hanging on thru the winter months this time. I’m not sure how i feel about 3 at the back, we are using & losing CBs very quickly. Wasnt most of our unbeaten run played with standard 4-2-3-1 type deal?

  9. C,

    It would be harsh to drop Leno and won’t happen imo, but surely the first half woes have to be of concern to Unai,
    For me this is was a match to give Medley a chance alongside Kos a gamble I know but would be a better fit than Xhaka at centre half. Bill asked the question last week if we could afford to give youngsters minutes we’ll this was opportunity but it was spurned

  10. Buckagh

    I am not sure where anyone would get the idea that using a player who has played basically zero high leverage minutes would have given us a better chance to win. It’s pretty clear if we hope to make the top 4 it’s going to be a dogfight and each and every point will probably be critical. We can’t afford to take any of the league games for granted even against weak team like Southampton. History has demonstrated we risk losing points we shouldn’t be dropping if we experiment with with players like Medley. The idea that we can use players like Nketiah, willock, Smith Rowe medley,Saka during the holiday season is probably not realistic given the fact that we sit in 5th place and can’t really afford to fall further behind.

  11. Yesterday was pure and simple shite. Reversal to old days at st marys with Kos, Ozil et consortes. Nothing new there and Emerys work has really just begun.

    There´s gonna be some more of these when we revert to type before he´s shaped the squad to his squad. But no matter that, it was all the same unbelievably painful to watch that shithouse of a performance take place, yet again. Still pretty pissed actually 🙁

  12. Right now the 4th place team is on pace to finish with 82.7 points. During the wenger era 72-73 points was always good enough to be top 4. The competition for those top 4 spots is historically stronger then any time during this century. I don’t think we can afford to drop points for the sake of player development.

  13. Bill,

    But we should be happy with the decision to take Xhaka out of midfield and play Guendouzi a 19 year old from ligue 2 who has fantastic potential, but rendered Lucas totally ineffective because of
    Guendozis lack of positional sense.
    Its horses for courses and Xhaka is not a centre half and was missed in midfield. Southampton had scored 13 goals before yesterday.

  14. buckagh,

    Agree with all of that.

    The first half thing is strange given how the team likes to play but its as though they spend the first 45 figuring out what the opposition is doing.

  15. Bill,

    No offense to Southampton but its Southampton mate, Medley could have featured and it just made more sense to play him then Xhaka. The one thing that we do know is that the detailed instructions that Emery has given to players has actually helped the youngsters. Plus, with Kos on one side and Nacho on the other, they would have been able to help him through the match while have the midfield shield of Xhaka and Torriera infront of him.

  16. I am not a huge fan of Elneny had he has quite a bit of experience as a CB with Egypt and a few games with arsenal. Keep Xhaka in midfield and use Elneny for 1 game. I think the best idea would have been Nacho at CB and Maitland-Niles at LWB. AMN played LB and wingback a lot last season and Nacho has extensive experience at left center back in the 3 at the back formation. Hindsight is 20/20 but to me either of those would have been better options then the set up we used. However. I suspect that Emery has had Xhaka playing CB on the training pitch this while he prepared this game and he thought it was going to work.

    The worn out hypothesis that its “just Southampton” and we can use games against weaker teams to rotate heavily or use younger players with impunity has been disproven hundreds of times. Yesterday proved that again.

  17. I get that the defense was a shambles yesterday, but our offense wasnt really firing either. Auba had a couple chances to get us up early and boost us but damn. That pass from Guendo was inch perfect. If only we had our trusty snot nosed lefty van purse strings up there, you know he would have slotted that away.

    Say what you will about Mateo, i have a seen a few brilliant passes from him this year. The kind of jaw dropping passes we used to see once a match from Fabregas. Havent seen those over the top throughballs since the Theo Van Nasri Gas days. Lets hope mateo can shape up into a solid player, he sure has shown the ability to play the perfect pass. Wait i thought Ozil played the perfect pass? Oh wait, he plays the perfect passer-by, letting his prime years pass by without a care.

  18. Bill,

    What yesterday proved is that yours is the worn out hypothesis.
    No one is Suggesting ” we rotate heavily or use young players with impunity against weaker teams”
    Its horses for courses.
    Its about players being in their strongest positions and stepping up to plate to support a young player.
    Maureen has spent over 400 million sofar, during his tenure on established players hasn’t got them far.
    City have spent over 2 billion some of that on very young players all of whom are flying

  19. The danger is in over reaction to a defeat. The pkayers are largely the same as Arsene had. How many points do we think we eould have if he was still manager?

    I was asking myself that during the last game. I do believe that we would be down with Everton, Utd and Bournemouth ar best. He was taking us down. Let us have some patience, we did not become Title contenders with a change of manager nor have we become a lost cause with a defeat.

  20. This is a defensive crisis wenger would have been proud of.

    Poor old Emery , Not untill he gets to sign the defenders he sees fit will we have a sniff or a whiff of a chance of doing anything like top four…well we have s chance but he needs time to sign his men. In emery we trust. As the divas could say.

  21. It had to come and when it did it wasn’t likely to be pretty, so it wasn’t. The team can react one of two ways: one, by saying “that’s a relief – now we can relax” or, two, by rolling up their sleeves and saying “right, let’s start another streak”.
    Given the form of the last six or so matches, I can’t say with much certainty that it will be the latter. But it has to be, somehow.

    Can’t blame Kos all that much; dropped into a make-shift defence after all that time off and expecting a miracle is, well, expecting a miracle.
    I think Leno may sit as Cech has been quite good, plus that’s how Emery manages.
    Goals from the strikers are a puzzle that has to he solved. And we have the “festered” season in which to solve it.

    After this match, safe to there are no sure things.

  22. consolsbob,

    Spot on!!!!! My mom always said listen to your elders (no offense I promise) and again mkm proved correct.

    Overreacting to 1 defeat doesn’t make sense in my mind especially when you consider its coming off the back of 22 unbeaten, our CB’s were either suspended or injured and we lost our RB who arguably has been in the conversation for Arsenal Player of the Year with his work on the flank.

    The biggest thing is ‘what happens next?’

  23. BBC reporting Mourhino is a goner. Not a Gooner.

    Shame, there’s a decent team in that squad with the right man in charge. Fingers crossed they hire Arsene as caretaker 🙂

    I’d say that’s about it now for Jose, the game is up

  24. PSG have made a statement saying that Raboit will not be signing a new contract as he wants to leave the club for free and because of that……..they have declared he will be sitting on the bench.

    Maybe a swap deal: Ramsey for Raboit. Raboit enjoyed his best spell under Emery and while I really rate our midfielders, a midfield moving forward of Guendouzi/Raboit/Guendouzi is absolutely mouth-watering.

  25. Dukey

    We are on pace to collect 76 points which is a huge improvement over the last year of Arsene and we have certainly exceeded expectations. I think we all trust Emery but the point of all of this is we still need some fairly significant talent upgrades and its probably going to take several transfer windows if we want to challenge for the top of the table or hope to be a threat to make a run deep in the champions league. Even great managers need to have enough talent and we can’t expect Emery to be a miracle worker.

  26. C,

    Ha. That’s a lot of guendouzi’s and not a single Rabiot.!! cheats never prosper! and get thrown out with the babies!

  27. C,

    that’ll be him.
    not sure Xhaka will be for the full hook, but Rabiot would be a welcome option. super upgrade on Mo.

Comments are closed.