Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Arsenal 1-2 Southampton: Saints alive

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An early exit from this season’s Capital One Cup leaves me with mixed feelings this morning. It’s a shame because it’s a competition in which some of our younger players, who acquitted themselves well last night, can gain valuable experience, but when you consider the state of the squad (at the back), not having to deal with it at all might not be the worst thing in the world.

The team last night was, by necessity, a mixture of youth and experience with a back four consisting of three 19 year olds who have – including last night – a total of 15 appearances between them (and 10 0f those are for Calum Chambers). Outside them, Francis Coquelin (a central midfielder) played at left-back, his first start for the club since we got dumped out of the FA Cup by Blackburn in February 2013.

And for me they were the most positive aspect of the evening. Coquelin had a stormer, I thought, while the young defenders coped quite well all things considered. There were promising signs from Hayden and Bellerin and with the manager revealing afterwards that Mertesacker and Gibbs are carrying knocks, we might see more of these guys in the not too distant future.

We started quite brightly, going ahead on 14 minutes from a quite wonderful Alexis free kick. It couldn’t have been any more top corner than that, but we couldn’t build on that goal. Instead, a poor Rosicky challenge made it easy for Mane to win a penalty right under the nose of the referee and Tadic calmly slotted it away to equalise.

After that Southampton had chances. Bellerin showed his pace to get back against Mane again, while Pelle smashed a shot wide from inside the box. At the other end we struggled to create openings and were duly punished when Southampton went ahead through Nathaniel Clyne. There are times you have to acknowledge the quality of an opposition goal and I think this is one of them.

Ospina, who made some good saves on his debut, was slightly wrong-footed by the initial trajectory of the ball and when it swerved the sheer power of it meant he couldn’t adjust in time. I thought Jack Wilshere should have done more to close down the Southampton right-back too. He seemed to check his run which gave him enough space to unleash the shot, but hats off, it was a brilliant strike.

Lukas Podolski squandered a good opportunity to equalise while Jack Wilshere’s attempt just before the break, having been set up by Alexis, was pretty tame. In the second half Ospina was definitely the busier of the goalkeepers, making saves to keep us in it, as our forward and midfield seemed unable to do much with the possession they had.

Alexis worked hard while those around him huffed and puffed to little effect. Podolski drifted out of the game completely as the half wore on; Joel Campbell tried a couple of nice flicks but most everything he did was entirely predictable and easy for Southampton; while the normally reliable Tomas Rosicky had a game he’d rather forget.

Bellerin came close to setting up Alexis for a late equaliser but his prodded effort from close range hit the keeper, before Southampton cleverly ensured the final few minutes were disrupted by a spate of yellow cards, preventing us from building the kind of momentum you’d like to see from a team in the final throes of a cup tie.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger hinted the issue wasn’t with the youngsters, and expressed frustration at the team’s inability to create chances from the possession they had:

I think if we lost the game tonight it’s not because of Hayden and it’s not because of Chambers. It’s not because of Coquelin. We have to be realistic. We scored from a free-kick but apart from that we couldn’t score. If you look at the amount of possession we had in the second half, and you play for so long with the amount of possession we had, you have to score.

He also gave credit to a solid Southampton side who did play very well:

I think the first reason for our defeat is the quality of our opponent and the performance of our opponent. You have to give credit to Southampton. They played were very organised and they played well tonight. Overall it’s frustrating because we gave a lot.

For me the disappointment comes from the more senior players who are on the fringes of the first team and for whom this was a real chance to put pressure on the manager to use them more often. If we’re being kind we could say there was a rustiness to some of them, but then I thought Abou Diaby, making his long-awaited comeback, seemed sharper than some of them so they can’t really use that as an excuse.

On the basis of last night you can see why the likes of Podolski and Campbell aren’t featuring in the Premier League. I’m more willing to give Rosicky the benefit of the doubt because at the very least if things didn’t come off for him, it wasn’t for the lack of effort.

I’d have liked to see Chuba Akpom get more of a run-out when it was clear Podolski had disappeared but overall, based on the performances of the two sides, I don’t think we can have any real complaints about the result. We played our part in their goals and they punished us for it, and when you’re that toothless up top then it’s hard to say we deserved any more than we got.

As I said though, it’s a bit of a bummer for the likes of Hayden, Bellerin and Akpom who could have used this tournament for the experience of first team football, but I think there were some promising signs from them last night which might just ease the defensive worries a little bit.

Other than that, little to report this morning. For extra reading have a look at ‘Appreciating Mesut‘, a column by @RoamingLibero, while later today tickets for the live Arsecast Extra recording will go on sale. I’ll post details here when they’re available.

Have a good one.

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