Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Arsenal 3-2 Southampton: Welbeck and Iwobi step it up

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The first thing that occurs to me this morning as I think about yesterday’s 3-2 win over Southampton is a moment during the second half when Mark Hughes could be heard raging from the sideline about something. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but his shriek of outrage made me laugh at the time and in the cold light of day, as I think about how unhappy he was then and must have been at the final whistle, it’s even more amusing.

It’s good to start your day with a smile, because we then have to talk about Shkodran Mustafi and his continued ineptitude. I know I said the other day we shouldn’t get too stressed about our defensive woes because we can do little about them, but that’s the kind of stuff that we can actually do something about it.

It doesn’t take a Herculean effort, months of coaching drills and a bazillion and ninety pounds in the transfer market to sort that kind of shit out. It just needs a supposedly experienced player to wake the hell up when there’s danger. Instead, he was fast asleep, like Sleepy O’Toole, allowing Shane Long – a man with 1 goal in 47 games – to nick in front of him and poke the ball home.

That he then threw his arms up as if it were Cech’s fault, or someone else’s fault, or some bloke in the crowd’s fault, just made it worse really. He is a very frustrating player because you know he can be better than that, but the frequency of his errors is such that you can’t escape the feeling this inconsistency is just a fundamental part of who he is and isn’t something he might just grow out of.

Their goal shouldn’t have been a surprise either. We’d been pulled from pillar to post defensively, Hector Bellerin clearing from just in front of the line after we’d been opened up far too easily, but the thing about this team at the moment is that it’s scoring goals and they go a long, long way to offsetting our defensive frailties.

That said, we’d reached the 28th minute without even having an attempt on goal, until Aubameyang dropped deeper to pick up an Elneny pass. He played it to Iwobi who touched it on to Welbeck, and his first-time flick sent the ball back into the path of the former Dortmund man who touched the ball beyond the keeper to make it 1-1. A really lovely goal, all things considered.

Danny Welbeck put us ahead, taking an Iwobi pass, cutting inside and unleashing a shot which deflected off the defender beyond the keeper, and we began the second half well with efforts from Iwobi and Xhaka forcing the keeper into a good saves. Cech was busy enough at the other end too, so it wasn’t one way traffic by any means. They had one disallowed for offside, and like in the first half the warning signs were there.

I’m not sure our substitutions were particularly helpful. Jack Wilshere came on for Reiss Nelson, who had a tidy if unspectacular first Premier League start, and Alexandre Lacazette replaced Aubameyang. They brought on Charlie Austin because he always scores against us so naturally he scored against us after a masterclass of dismal defending. Wilshere, Chambers and Mustafi (again) were found wanting and our response to being drawn level was to bring on Rob Holding for Hector Bellerin (injury, perhaps?).

It looked like our chances of winning it were gone when Welbeck contrived to miss from close range after Wilshere did well to hook the ball back across from an Iwobi cross, but to his credit he kept his head up and when Iwobi did well again to cross to the back post, he was there to nod home the winner. He spoke afterwards:

I thought there’d be another opportunity to get a goal and get the winner. I kept my mind focused on that. Obviously you’re disappointed, but then it’s gone and you can’t do anything about that. You have to move onto the next one.

Obviously the focus will be on his two goals, but I thought he put in a massive shift defensively too, which really rounded out an excellent overall performance. We looked at this game as a way for both Welbeck and Iwobi to contribute and regain some form – particularly handy as Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be unavailable for the next few weeks at least – and that was very much the case.

I thought Iwobi was our best player on the day, he looked positive and more confident, and it was pleasing to see him play that well because he has struggled this season. I’ve always thought there’s a good player in there, but we haven’t seen it often enough, so if this goes some way to putting him on the right track then that can only be a good thing.

The game ended in somewhat chaotic fashion when Wilshere pulled the shirt off Jack Stephens as he drove forward, rightly picking up a yellow card for the foul, but the Southampton man’s reaction earned him a red card. Bizarrely, that was followed by another red, this time for Mohamed Elneny who was deemed to have raised his hands in this incident.

I don’t think that’s a red card, the decision was harsh, but I’d question why Elneny thought he had to get involved there. They were down to ten men, we had a free kick to defend and he should have been back doing his job rather than the pointless pushing and shoving which will, unless Arsenal successfully appeal, see him serve a three match ban. With Europe now the priority, and the Egyptian seen as someone who can step into the team for the league games, it’s a silly way to get sidelined – particularly as he’d played well up until that point.

Still, we hung on, took the three points, made Mark Hughes unhappy, and isn’t that – even in this crazy, divisive Arsenal world we live in – something we can all agree is a good thing? That’s six wins from six now, it keeps the momentum going ahead of Thursday’s trip to Russia for the second leg of our Europa League quarter-final, and there were some positives to take from it all.

At the very least it was eventful, and we’re a point in the season where there’s real potential for the games to be as dull as dishwater, so I guess we can be thankful for that.

James and I are recording the podcast early today, so we’ll have an Arsecast Extra for you around mid-morning, stay tuned for that, and if you have any questions and you’re reading this before 9am GMT then fire them to @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra.

Catch you later for the podcast.

[Insert the sound of an outraged Mark Hughes here]

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