Sunday, March 3, 2024

Arsenal 0-2 Southampton: Saints and Sinners

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Not unexpectedly, Arsene Wenger made ten (10!) changes from the side that beat Bournemouth at the weekend. Only Mohamed Elneny survived and it turns out the Egyptian international was unwell before the game, before declaring himself ok to play. He wasn’t really however, the manager said he’d got a dose of splats, and he had to come off just a few minutes shy half-time to be replaced by Granit Xhaka.

At that point we were 2-0 down though. I thought we actually started quite brightly, passing the ball around confidently, but as the half went on we became less and less cohesive. Their first goal came when they had all the space in the world down our right, a cross was half-cleared/blocked, falling to Jordy Clasie who smashed home a cracking shot from just outside the box. Martinez really had no chance.

We offered almost nothing as an attacking force, and defensively we looked a bit suspect, particularly at right-back where Carl Jenkinson really struggled and got little or no help from The Jeff playing in front of him. It was Jenkinson’s indecision that saw him cede possession deep in our half, Southampton worked it down their left again, and nobody tracked Ryan Bertrand who rolled the ball into the far corner to make it 2-0.

There was a bit more about us in the second half, the introduction of Xhaka gave us a bit more craft, and there were some vaguely promising moments early on. Jenkinson found Ramsey but he miscued his shot, and the Swiss international stung the palms of Forster with a free kick from distance.

At the other end the perpetually annoying Shane Long missed a header, before trying his luck from further out, Martinez was equal to it though. The exciting Sofiane Boufal, a player we were linked with last summer actually, almost made it 3-0 before the manager made changes, bringing on Oxlade-Chamberlain and Maitland-Niles for The Jeff and Jenkinson. It made a little bit of a difference, but not enough.

Ramsey shot wide, then wider, Oxlade-Chamberlain should have scored with what was our best chance of the night, and Long added to his catalogue of misses at the Emirates this season skewing wide when he just had the keeper to beat. He even had the temerity to complain he was being fouled when taking the shot as if he hadn’t tripped up Koscielny last season (that still annoys me).

Gibbs did a header, Maitland-Niles stopped one on the line, and we had some corners, but we never really looked like scoring the goals we needed, nor did we look particularly concerned about that fact. Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:

It’s one of those nights where you can play for two hours and not score.

We could still be out there, Southampton on their team bus, and we’d be struggling. He continued:

We were not good enough defensively and we gave cheap goals away. We didn’t have enough urgency in the first half. We were weak in some departments and we paid for that. On the night we were not at our best. There are no excuses and we can only say Southampton were better than us.

Asked if he regretted resting so many players, he said:

I have no regrets over the selection, I regret we lost the game.

And I think that’s reasonable. Going into this we all knew that the likes of Koscielny, Alexis, Ozil etc, would be rested, and I don’t think anyone can really have any complaints about that. We have a difficult away game on Saturday and it was sensible to give them the midweek off. For me though, the disappointment is that the team we did pick couldn’t really get going in any meaningful way. On paper they were capable of much better than that.

Ramsey, given a chance in his favourite position playing just behind the striker, really struggled to impose himself on the game, and it’s chances like this you really want to see him take. The Jeff looks a long way from ready, poor old Carl Jenkinson looks like a guy who has had all the confidence sapped out of him and the manager has a big decision about what to do this weekend against West Ham.

I thought the two centre-halves did well enough, all things considered, and Alex Iwobi was about the best we had to offer further forward. He was always trying to be positive, looking for the ball and trying to make something happen, but it’s fair to say there weren’t many on the same wavelength as him last night.

Overall, a disappointing night, but one that I think has to be put in context. There’s never really an upside about Arsenal losing a game, and even if you view the EFL Cup as trifling, it’s still a trophy to put in your cabinet at the end of the season. Still, it was very much a second string team and that was our first defeat since the opening day of the season.

It now becomes a case of ‘we haven’t lost in the league since …’, and it’s important that we don’t allow this to affect our momentum in any way. Saturday’s game against West Ham will be as challenging as ever, and it’s down to the manager to make sure the decisions he made in midweek are beneficial for us when we visit the Free Stadium of London.

Southampton played well, their reward is two legs against Liverpool in January and February. Maybe when that time comes around we might be glad we don’t have that to contend with, but that’s dependent on maintaining a league position which suggests we’re still fighting for the title. Let’s see.

Right, that’s just about that. Tim Stillman will be here with his column later, I’ll be back tomorrow with an Arsecast and all the rest. Until then.

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