Football: So much talent, so little obvious commitment. Enigmatic is one way of describing Le Tissier

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Southampton 0Arsenal 2

As laid back in conversation as he so often appears to be on the field, Matthew Le Tissier conveyed little impression of crisis. No, he couldn't identify a formula for survival. Slouching in a chair with a smile on his face, you felt like shaking him.

So much talent, so little in the way of obvious commitment. Enigmatic? That is one way of describing this richly gifted footballer. Another - one that has sprung up frequently in objective assessment - questions his sense of purpose.

When Graeme Souness speaks about rolling up sleeves and battling through to the end, qualities that stood out in him as a player, he can hardly have Southampton's most talented performer in mind.

The dilemma for Souness rests with Le Tissier's capacity for dramatic intervention. Others must be relied upon for the muck and nettles of a relegation fight. But if only the Channel Islander could bring his technical ability to bear more often.

A conclusion long since reached personally about Le Tissier is that he has no instinct for influencing the flow of proceedings. Indeed, would he be in the team if Eyal Berkovitch was a more consistent goalscorer and in better form? "When they are both playing we have two non-tacklers in midfield and Matthew, who is more likely to get goals, isn't comfortable playing up front," Souness said.

These are the details of selection that confront all managers and in Souness's case they are entwined with temperament. No time, you may think, for accommodating individual preferences, but that is the problem he has with Le Tissier, who should be the one providing Southampton with inspiration.

Souness was sitting at the back of the room in which Le Tissier spoke after Arsenal's victory. "It's going to be hard now," he confided. "We didn't get into the game and Arsenal played well. You try this and that, but in the end it comes down to what players put into it. There have been plenty of battling performances from ours this season without much luck, but today we didn't have any snap and we were half a yard slower in most things. We've got players here who have been down this road before, so perhaps that will work for us."

It is beginning to look like a forlorn hope, and what wouldn't Souness give for the depth and experience that enabled Arsenal to overcome depletion through injury and suspension. What wouldn't he give for a Patrick Vieira? "He was outstanding, especially in the first half," Souness said of the rangy young Frenchman.

Souness sees something of himself in Vieira's combative attitude. However, that it occasionally leads Vieira into indiscretions is becoming at least a small problem for Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger. "Players must always be professional," Wenger said when asked about an incident between Vieira and Le Tissier that could have brought about a dismissal.

Convinced that Vieira was about to go off - "I didn't have a clear view of what happened, but I caught sight of the red card," - Wenger ordered Remi Garde on in place of Paul Shaw to keep things solid in midfield. Le Tissier made light of the matter afterwards. "Vieira didn't throw a punch, just brushed me away," he said. Wenger will delay any action until he has looked at it on video.

Despite the impressive recovery Arsenal have made since losing three consecutive home matches, Wenger continues to play down the prospect of a championship. "Manchester United are in a strong position, so it would be foolish to have big hopes. But I said we needed to win four games and so far we have won three."

Encouragingly for Wenger, the third of those vital victories was achieved with goals from players who would not normally expect to be in the team. Stephen Hughes further emphasised his promise when benefiting from a mistake by Maik Taylor and Shaw pounced on Ray Parlour's deflected shot to put the match beyond Southampton.

Le Tissier had a close-in shot blocked and once unnerved Arsenal's defence with a trade-mark free-kick that flew just wide. Not enough, not nearly enough.

Goals: Hughes (41) 0-1; Shaw (72) 0-2.

Southampton (3-5-2): Taylor; Maddison, Lundekvam (Monkou, 52), Dryden; Neilsen (Berkovitch 52), Slater, Magilton, Le Tissier, Charlton; Ostenstad, Evans. Substitutes not used: Benali, Basham, Beasant (gk).

Arsenal (3-5-2): Harper; Keown, Adams, Marshall; Parlour, Platt, Vieira, Hughes, Winterburn; Shaw (Garde, 73), Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Morrow, Rose, Rankin, Bartram (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Bookings: Southampton Slater, Monkou. Arsenal Winterburn, Parlour, Vieira.

Man of the match: Vieira.

Attendance: 15,144.