Southampton 2 Arsenal 2 match report: Premier League leaders slip at St Mary's as Mathieu Flamini is sent off

Both teams at one stage held the lead before the game finished level

Arsenal edged an extra point clear at the top of the Premier League at the cost of a second-half sending-off for Mathieu Flamini in a topsy-turvy match that greatly undermined any confidence in the leaders maintaining that position for much longer. Having fallen behind, Arsenal rapped back to take the lead but never looked like fully subduing a buoyant Southampton.

Jose Fonte’s goal was a  fitting culmination to an opening 20 minutes of almost complete Saints domination, for which the minor delay to Arsenal’s team bus as they travelled down the M3 could not even be partial mitigation. The Portuguese star scored his second goal of the season with a powerful header – aided perhaps by a clever nudge in the back of his marker Nacho Monreal – that the Gunners’ goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny could only parry over his own goal-line.

It came from a foul by Per Mertesacker on Adam Lallana and a long, looped cross from the left by Luke Shaw from the subsequent free-kick.

There had been enough alarm bells ringing already to worry Arsenal, chief among them Lallana being allowed a free header from a corner that was fortuitously cleared by Oliver Giroud and a couple of slack dispossessions in midfield suffered by Monreal and Santi Cazorla.

There was also a snapshot by Sam Gallagher that Szczesny needed to beat out – but it could have been far worse for Arsenal on 35 minutes when the 18-year-old Gallagher, who scored on his first Saints start against Yeovil in the FA Cup last weekend, missed a sitter in the sheeting rain. The panicky Monreal had a clearance rebound off Steven Davis straight to the youngster on the edge of the six-yard box, but he side-footed wide.

Jose Fonte of Southampton turns to celebrate scoring the opening goal Jose Fonte of Southampton turns to celebrate scoring the opening goal  

Four minutes before half-time it needed a magnificent sliding block by Laurent Koscielny to deny a goal-bound shot by Gallagher. When Arsène Wenger praised the Southampton production line of young players pre-match, he may have tempted too much fate.

In transfer window week, Southampton – whose  relatively poor league run of late could be traced back to losing the reverse fixture at Arsenal in November – have been more concerned with outs than ins. There are those who hope the seemingly inevitable departure of Shaw will be delayed until the summer as an act of appeasement by owner Katharina Liebherr towards the Saints’ manager , Mauricio Pochettino, after the recent departure of chairman Nicola Cortese. Record  signing Dani Osvaldo,  however, looks set to leave sooner rather than later after an unsavoury incident with Fonte in training last week.

Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring the equalising goal to make it 1-1 Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring the equalising goal to make it 1-1  

The home side refused to be sucked into a tit-for-tat battle of the tippy-tappy that some might have expected. Arsenal, in any case, relied on a favourite set piece for their only chance of the first half in the 44th minute, Mesut Özil’s corner being flicked on by Mertesacker for Koscielny, who brought a good save from Artur Boruc to his left.

Unlike their hosts,  Arsenal’s form line had been strong: seven straight wins in the Premier League and FA Cup since a draw against Chelsea on 23 December. But after meeting Crystal Palace next Sunday the leaders face all six of the teams immediately below them in the table during a daunting nine-week fixture list that also includes Liverpool in the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

A point or three here looked imperative, given all that. And two Arsenal goals in the  opening five minutes of the second half suggested Wenger had made that clear too.

Santi Cazorla of Arsenal celebrates scoring their second goal with Olivier Giroud Santi Cazorla of Arsenal celebrates scoring their second goal with Olivier Giroud  

Giroud’s status as the prime striker has been accompanied by persistent mickey-taking of their understudy Nicklas Bendtner that even reached the BBC’s The Graham Norton Show last Friday when the comedian Lee Mack teased Thierry Henry about the Dane. The rumour mill has Arsenal targeting strikers or an attacking midfielder such as Schalke’s Julian Draxler.

It did not bother the  Frenchman, though, as he plundered his 10th league goal in a season’s total of 14. A long cross was muscled on by Bacary Sagna, shrugging off Jack Cork, and the full-back’s low cross was cutely nudged in off Giroud’s heel. Soon  afterwards, Özil strode down the right-hand side, stepped inside Cork and passed  sideways for Cazorla – with more than a hint of a scuff – to shoot past Boruc.

Southampton’s response, mercifully for them, was immediate. With 54 minutes gone Sagna was foxed by a pass over his head that Jay Rodriguez latched on to before dinking a nice ball for his fellow England new boy Lallana to smash home with his left foot.

Adam Lallana of Southampton celebrates scoring their second goal Adam Lallana of Southampton celebrates scoring their second goal against Arsenal  

Özil, emboldened, had a shot deflected on to the top of the bar. The German was then fouled by Morgan Schneiderlin but the free-kick was lofted to nowhere in particular in an echo of Arsenal’s earlier torpor. At the other end Szczesny raced out to toe a dangerous through ball away from Rodriguez.

The temperature of the match had dropped a few degrees once the scores were level but that changed with 11 minutes remaining when Mathieu Flamini was shown a straight red card for a two-footed lunge on Schneiderlin. Shaw’s attacking quality was shown again with a shot nicked off Sagna that Szczesny turned over the bar and from the corner, the Pole palmed away Fonte’s volley.

Before that November meeting these clubs were three league points apart; now it is 20, but Arsenal’s upward momentum stalled here.

 

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?