Artur Boruc has not let in many goals this season, but the ones he has conceded tend to be memorable. Three weeks after suffering the embarrassment of being beaten from 100 yards by his Stoke counterpart Asmir Begovic at the Britannia, he committed one of those howlers yesterday that go straight to video.
The keeper had plenty of time to clear when he received a pass-back from Nathaniel Clyne midway through the first half with the game goalless. But he dallied, allowing Olivier Giroud to close him down. Instead of simply clearing he did one Cruyff turn, then another, before tying himself into so many knots attempting a third that Giroud was able to nick the ball off him. As Boruc fell dizzily to the ground, Giroud rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
Arsenal’s victory, which put them four points clear, was confirmed three minutes from time when Giroud added a second from the penalty sport after Jose Fonte had been spotted tugging Per Mertesacker’s shirt at a corner, but the first goal was the critical one. Saints may not concede many (seven now in 12 games) but they do not score many either (15 in 12 games) so cannot afford to gift goals in such sloppy fashion
“We were unlucky in the way we conceded the goal,” Southampton’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, said. He added: “There is nothing more to say. We have to move on. These things can happen in football.”
Boruc had a chequered start to his Southampton career, being dropped for throwing a bottle at his own supporters on his home debut, but has since been a key figure in their rise to prominence, shaking off a reputation as a loose cannon. Yesterday’s error, however, smacked of misplaced arrogance. Pochettino, though, said the keeper had no need to apologise: “I offer 100 per cent support for him. Football players can have amazing performances, and they can have a bad day, as he did today.”
Pochettino also said he approved of the fact that Boruc was trying to maintain possession and play out from the back. “It is the way we play. That is what I demand of him, of all my players.”
It is also the way Arsenal play, but Arsène Wenger said he had in the past told Wojciech Szczesny not to take similar chances. The manager was relieved to win what he admitted was a test of character after the defeat at Old Trafford and the subsequent rigours of the international break. “It was vital to win after the Manchester United defeat. There is always the question, ‘Can you win after a big defeat?’ ”
Liverpool’s failure to hold on to the lead at Goodison Park earlier in the day meant Arsenal went into the game still top of the Premier League. They were further boosted when the visitors were forced to omit centre-half Dejan Lovren, who had fallen ill during the night. Jos Hooiveld, who scored an own goal when Southampton lost 6-1 at the Emirates last September, returned, making a total of seven survivors from that rout.
If many of the personnel are the same Southampton are a very different side now, and arrived in north London boasting the tightest defence in Europe. They had also won at Liverpool and drawn at Old Trafford, so Wenger was wary.
After some initial problems dealing with Southampton’s high pressing game they quickly found a way to deal with it. With a plethora of midfielders coming short to receive possession Arsenal were able to play out from the back and impose their customary territorial control. As the ball fizzed around the fringes of the Saints box it was inevitable that chances would be created, and the first came after 12 minutes. The impressive Jack Wilshere seized on a bouncing ball in the box, his first touch took him past Luke Shaw, and from an impossible angle he chipped Boruc, only for the ball to rebound off the far post and be gathered by the relieved goalkeeper. Five minutes later Arsenal struck the post again. Mesut Özil drilled a low cross into the box and Aaron Ramsey flicked the ball against the upright.
Then came Boruc’s comedy moment. It left Saints with much to do. New England cap Adam Lallana led the response, bringing a pair of fine saves from Szczesny with a brace of dipping volleys before the break, then testing his handling with a low shot after it. But the Saints captain was, said Pochettino, feeling the effects of back-to-back England matches, especially the groin he stretched against Chile, and had to be withdrawn. Thereafter Southampton never threatened, but there was widespread relief for the home side when Giroud rolled in the late penalty for his 10th goal of an already productive season.
Arsenal (4-1-3-1-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta (Rosicky, 74); Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla (Walcott, 70); Giroud, Ozil (Monreal, 81).
Southampton (4-3-3): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Shaw (Davis, h/t); Ward-Prowse, Wanyama, Schneiderlin; Lallana (Osvaldo, 53), Lambert, Rodriguez.
Refere: M Clattenburg.
Match rating: 7
Man of the match: Wilshere
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