For many teams survival in the Premier League depends on repeated attempts to cancel out technical superiority. Tactics and luck come into it too, but a maximum effort is essential.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Southampton committed themselves fully, but Arsenal's 3-1 victory at The Dell reflected a big difference in quality. "We've been beaten by three outstanding strikes from high- priced, high-quality players," the Southampton manager, Dave Jones, said. "If you can pay the money, you get the goods."
If this was not an outstanding Arsenal performance, less than is expected of championship contenders, it alerted Southampton's supporters to another relegation struggle.
If it wasn't one thing it was another. Ian Wright, on the threshold of Arsenal's goalscoring record, was unusually subdued, but that left Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars. "That's the problem we had," Jones added. "If you concentrate on one of their goalscorers they've got two more who can create havoc."
Overmars' goal in the 19th minute, his first for Arsenal, was a good example. Southampton had two defenders in close proximity, but the Dutchman cut between them to score.
Doubtless, Jones had something to say about that at half-time, but he was comforted by Neil Maddison's 25th-minute equaliser and a general lack of certainty in Arsenal's defence.
Probably, Jones had even more to say about Bergkamp's first goal after 57 minutes. Collecting the ball at least 40 yards from goal, Bergkamp easily avoided the half-hearted attentions of four defenders before tucking away a low shot. In fact, Southampton made things as easy for Bergkamp as a poor Brazil team once did for England's John Barnes when he scored a famous goal against them in Rio.
Bergkamp's second was altogether different, a stunning strike that is unlikely to be bettered anywhere in the Premier League this season. Wrenching himself clear from the clutches of Francis Benali, showing more animation than Arsenal's supporters have come to expect from him, Bergkamp strode on a couple of paces before firing into the top near corner of Southampton's goal.
This was the other side of Bergkamp. Not the virtuoso who sometimes appears to be put out by the game's rough and tumble, but a man reacting angrily to illegal attention. In fact, one swipe of an elbow at Benali might easily have resulted in sterner punishment than a sight of David Elleray's yellow card.
"I think we saw today that Dennis has reached that stage in a great player's career when everything, the skill, the strength, the maturity and experience come together," Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, said. "There was nothing in Dennis' mind when he scored that second goal than getting into a shooting position. He was angry about being fouled, but he turned that to his advantage."
Less pleasing for Wenger was the awareness that Arsenal's defensive lapses could have resulted in lost points when Southampton came back at them. From looking as though they could score at will, Arsenal found themselves in trouble. David Seaman had difficulty with a Kevin Davies shot, only just managing to catch it on the line with his legs, and both David Hughes and Stig Johansen wasted good chances.
"Winning matches is the priority," Wenger said, but Tony Adams' return to the defence will be welcomed.
As for Wright, the burden of overtaking Cliff Bastin's record appeared to weigh heavily. "I've told him not to become obsessed with the record," Wenger added. Wright did very little apart from becoming one of three Arsenal players to be booked, which is something else that may soon be occupying Wenger's attention.
Goals: Overmars (20) 0-1; Maddison (25) 1-1; Bergkamp (57) 1-2; Bergkamp (79) 1-3.
Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Benali, Todd; Oakley (Hughes, 63), Magilton, Maddison, Spedding (Evans, 73); Davies, Ostenstad (Johansen, 46). Substitutes not used: Neilson, Taylor.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Garde, Grimandi (Marshall, 75), Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit (Platt, 65), Overmars (Boa Morte, 87); Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Anelka, Lukic (gk).
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).
Bookings: Southampton: Monkou. Arsenal: Bould, Wright, Bergkamp.
Man of the match: Bergkamp.
Attendance: 15,246.Reuse content