A moment of magic from Alexis Sanchez and a late header from substitute Olivier Giroud gave us the goals we needed for our first away win in the league at Southampton for close to 14 years.
It has, in the last few years, been an annoyingly difficult place for us to go, but although they had their moments in the first half, the home side didn’t look anywhere near as dangerous as they have done previously. Perpetual irritant Shane Long was on the bench, and for the most part we coped pretty well with what they had to offer.
As he has been in the last few games, Petr Cech was an important figure, making a big first half save – just as he did against Man United. The manager spoke afterwards about how the three at the back has given us more defensive stability, and that is true to an extent, but the Arsenal keeper has played a big part too. The ability to give the opposition a big chance is not gone completely, and without his saves the last two games in particular would have taken a very different trajectory.
Much like the United game, there were periods of great dullness. Arsenal, the Re-Dullening. Lots of possession, little incision against a team who stayed organised and compact. One of the the things we haven’t yet got on top of with this new system is getting decent service to the striker, and much like Olivier Giroud in other games, Danny Welbeck didn’t have a lot to work with.
The basic plan appears to be get it out to Oxlade-Chamberlain and let him get the crosses in from the right. He’d already made 6 crosses by the time his hamstring went and he was replaced by Hector Bellerin. The Spaniard’s first action was to get down the right and whip in a really good cross.
One of the issues, I think, is that on the other side a more naturally defensive player like Kieran Gibbs doesn’t give you that some kind of forward thrust, and you couldn’t help but wonder what we’d be like if we had the same kind of dynamism on the left as we do the right.
We defended well enough, Holding, Mustafi and Monreal at centre-half were switched on, and when the goal eventually came it was a lovely bit of football. Xhaka, impressive again alongside Ramsey, found Ozil with a nice pass through the lines. The German’s flick came to Sanchez who controlled it, faked to shoot – leaving two defenders skidding to oblivion on their arses – and his finish was clinical.
A really fantastic goal, made all the more enjoyable by the fact the Chilean had spent the previous five minutes giving the ball away cheaply, the way he does. I guess that’s the trade off. The yin and the yang of Alexis Sanchez. He looks unbelievably careless at times, but he’s the only player in this team consistently capable of providing something special, a moment that can turn a game, and he did that last night.
He was involved in the second too, late in the game after Southampton had brought on Long and Giroud replaced Welbeck. His spotted Ramsey making a run to the far post and found him with a lovely cross. The Welshman’s header back across goal for Giroud left the French international with the simple job of heading down and in, his sixth goal as a substitute this season.
That was always going to be that, and a win away at Southampton is just what we needed. Not simply because the three points were a necessity, but when your next game is also away at a ground which has proved a pretty unsuccessful hunting ground, it’s good for the confidence to know you can break those ‘hoodoos’.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:
The first half was quite even but we were focused, determined, maintained the pace and in the second half we found space to create chances and finish the game off, I believe overall, in a convincing way. You couldn’t be disappointed from the goalkeeper to Danny Welbeck, everybody played well.
And on Alexis, who got his 25th goal of the season:
I think the goal that he has scored tonight showed what he is about. Very good technique in a short space, he scores important goals. And with very short technique he has invention in his head. He’s creative because he’s not fazed by anything and he’s surprised everybody in the stadium tonight by what he did. They expected him to take a shot and he is very quick, so overall he has done extremely well.
Sometimes when people look back on our best sides, the Invincibles perhaps, there’s rose-tinted view of things. An idea that every game was won in the tunnel, that we swept all opposition aside all the time. It’s not true. The difference was that we had a number of players like Alexis who, in tight games, could come up with a move, a pass, a shimmy, a finish, the thing that could give that extra 1-2% that you need to win matches in the Premier League.
He can be a frustrating player, no doubt about it, but the reality is we need more players who have that ability. I know we can talk about the collective, and the need to improve it there, I get that completely, but when it comes to winning games having a special player or two can often be the difference, and Sanchez showed that perfectly last night.
Without him we’re the not so big bad wolf, well capable of blowing down the houses of sticks and straw, but while the smug little piggies sit in their house of bricks thinking they’re safe and sound, Alexis is round the back setting up the dynamite to smash his way through and get his pork on (extra crispy).
All in all, a good evening. Nothing less than a win would do, and we got that. Now for Stoke on Saturday, another big test, but that’s the job we’ve left ourselves this season.
Right, that’s your lot. News throughout the day on Arseblog News, I’m back tomorrow with more, including an Arsecast. Until then, have a good one.