Monday, November 28, 2022

Arsenal 6-1 Southampton: the joy of six

Match ReportBy the numbersVideo

Well, home wins don’t come much easier than that. The Premier League new boys were hit for six by a rampant Arsenal and perhaps the best thing about the performance and the result was that you always felt we were capable of more.

The manager sprang something of a surprise, deploying Gervinho down the middle rather than Podolski or Giroud, and to his credit the Ivorian rewarded the manager with two goals and a performance which was so far removed from his usual fare it was almost like he was a new signing, or something. Bar a shaky display from the returning Wojciech Szczesny the team as a whole played well, cleverly and with the kind of fluency and commitment that will win us more difficult games than this.

Having conceded eight goals in their previous three games it was obvious Southampton weren’t going to be as attacking as we might like, and in the early stages sat deep with ten men behind the ball looking to frustrate us. You need to hold out longer than 11 minutes to do that, however, and after great battling in midfield from Podolski, Kelvin Davis could only parry Kieran Gibbs cross/shot onto the leg of his own defender to put us 1-0 up. The German then set the mood with a delicious free kick, curled home with his left foot. It’s about time we had somebody who could do that for us.

It was 4-0 within minutes. Gervinho got his first, running onto Arteta’s through ball and smacking it home at the near post – the finish of a player feeling a lot better about himself – before another own goal, again from a Gibbs cross made the game safe before half-time. Our clean sheet record went by the wayside after Szczesny fumbled a routine catch into the path of Fox who snapped up the chance to get one back but it was a goal borne out of the keeper’s mistake, not due to pressure from the visitors.

To be fair to them they looked better in the second half (they really couldn’t have been much worse) and caused us a few more problems but defensively we coped well. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s willingness to shoot from distance was good to see and almost brought rewards before Gervinho got the fifth. It came after fantastic play from Aaron Ramsey, the Welshman skipped across the area and hit the post before the ball rebounded to Gervinho for a simple tap-in.

Substitute Theo Walcott got the final goal after a Thomas Vermaelen shot was parried and Cazorla laid the ball perfectly into his path for a relatively simple finish. For all the plaudits they’ve won for the performances against the Manchester clubs, Southampton were thoroughly dismantled and have yet to win a single point this season. Afterwards, Arsene said:

We had a good combination of pace, speed in our passing, quick combinations, and the movement was excellent. We were a bit lucky as well because they conceded two own goals, but overall I think it was a level of continuity with what we have shown at Liverpool and today.

In the second half we lost a bit of urgency, that is human, but we controlled the game and remained serious.

And you really can’t ask for much more than we got yesterday. A near flawless defensive performance, scuppered only by Szczesny’s mistake and wonky distribution, and an attacking display built on the new found solidity at the back. You can see partnerships beginning to develop all over the pitch. Podolski and Gibbs, Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain, in midfield Arteta and Cazorla are developing the kind of understanding that can only improve as the season goes on, while at the back Mertesacker and Vermaelen work together very well.

As I noted in this column for ESPN, it’s clear that as we continue to improve defensively, Vermaelen seems to have added a measure of discipline to his game. He’s less likely to charge forward (although we can certainly allow it at 5-1 up) and as such we remain a much more focused unit at the back. He’s certainly got something to offer in the final third, his goalscoring record speaks to that, but improving the defensive side of his game was always going to make him a better player. The steadiness of the Vermesacker axis means it’s tough going on Laurent Koscielny, the timing of his injury means he’s going to have to wait for his chance, but it’s the best kind of a problem a manager can have.

Meanwhile, the impact Cazorla has on the team is summed up perfectly by the manager:

Cazorla is a player who is just a pleasure to watch. You want him to have the ball. He typifies what Spain’s midfielders are today – he is technically perfect, he has great vision and a great team attitude.

Technically perfect is almost an understatement. It doesn’t seem to matter how or when he receives the ball, his ability to get it under control and do something with it is fantastic. One moment in the second half summed him up when he received a bouncing ball, killed it stone dead and left two Southampton players looking around as he switched play back in-field. It’s a shame we didn’t get him last summer but it’s very much a case of better late than never.

Overall this was a performance which will have laid to rest some of the doubts people had about this team. Where would the goals come from in the absence of van Persie? Last season it would have been a real struggle, this time around we look much more balanced and much more of a team. I’m not saying we don’t miss a player of van Persie’s quality but sometimes a team can come to rely too much on one man. It happened when Ian Wright was our leading man, Tony Adams wrote about how if Wright didn’t score then the team struggled, and that was the case last season with Skunky.

Now we seem to have spread the load, shared the burden of goalscoring, and while we’re going to face much sterner opposition, and very soon, yesterday’s result showed the kind of ruthlessness that has been missing in recent seasons. Sure, we could hit a Blackburn for six every now and again but against teams we really should put to the sword, we’ve often made life difficult for ourselves. It was good to see that we kept up the pressure and hard work until we’d actually built a substantial lead. It’s good for confidence and to help the team gel.

So, three points in the bag, a midweek Champions League trip to France, then it’s Manchester City next weekend which will provide a much stiffer test of this team’s qualities, especially at the back. For now though, it makes today a good day indeed.

Enjoy your Sunday.

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