Volatile Arsenal lurch to victory over sloppy Southampton

Arsenal 3-0 Southampton: After a woeful start, Mikel Arteta’s side cruised to a comfortable win

Tom Kershaw
Emirates Stadium
Saturday 11 December 2021 17:09 GMT
<p>Martin Odegaard (second left) celebrates Arsenal’s second goal against Southampton </p>

Martin Odegaard (second left) celebrates Arsenal’s second goal against Southampton

If ever a performance encapsulated Arsenal’s relentless craving for volatility, their victory over Southampton will serve as a gleaming example of how to conquer both ends of the spectrum. After three defeats in four games had sucked the momentum out of Mikel Arteta’s interminable reboot, Arsenal’s manager began the weekend by publicly ostracising his captain and then spent much of the opening 20 minutes burying his face in his hands as his side reeled off errors like a wheel of fortune.

But then, the most infuriating aspect of Arsenal’s current state is how they can lurch from the laughable to the sublime. Just as the irritation at a sodden Emirates began to sour, Alexandre Lacazette finished a truly magnificent team goal to open the scoring and, from thereon, the result was rarely in doubt, with Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Magalhaes completing a 3-0 victory either side of half-time. On the surface, without the generosity of any further description, it will be chalked down as a commanding clean sheet. It certainly finished that way, but that was as much a result of Southampton’s blunt and brittle offering, reflecting a team who are now without a win in five and poised precariously above the relegation zone.

And so, after a recent downturn that gathered more potent misery with every step, Arsenal are back on the precipice of the top four. It has to be said, though, their victory wielded few assurances that the Artetaverse won’t soon be knocked off its unstable axis again. Certainly, there will be more speculation to come over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence due to a “disciplinary breach”, and his side began the match with an appropriate lack of leadership on the pitch.

It was a sort of lethargic, disjointed trance that left Arteta stomping in dismay, the crowd sighing like a depressed balloon, and invited Southampton into a carefree wave of attacks. In a duel of errors, between passes misplaced and tackles mistimed, it was Gabriel who conspired to emerge victorious. After picking up a yellow card inside the first three minutes for a wild lunge, the Brazilian then gifted the ball straight to Adam Armstrong on the edge of the box, only to be reprieved by the striker’s tame shot. Armstrong’s second attempt minutes later carried far more intent, but was dealt with in typically convincing fashion by Aaron Ramsdale at the near post.

It had been, by almost every standard of measurement, an appalling start. But Southampton lacked cutting edge, spurned chances, and were then spliced open emphatically. For all their early haplessness, Arsenal’s goal was the product of a wonderfully high-stakes team move, beginning at the feet of Ramsdale, whose ball out only just escaped the onrushing Armando Broja. A slick triangle of passes broke Southampton’s press and set Bukayo Saka free down the right wing. The teenager’s cutback was exquisite and Alexandre Lacazette’s curling first-time finish into the top corner was no less precise. On the balance of play, it was daylight robbery – albeit under miserably grey skies – but it did undoubtedly offer another glimpse of Arteta’s elusive vision.

Arsenal’s second followed just six minutes later, although it wasn’t quite as artful but rather a work of Southampton’s rudimentary defence. A looping ball found its way to Kieran Tierney at the back post, who was then allowed to head his own deflected cross back into the box, where Odegaard met it unchallenged. It was the Norwegian’s third goal in as many games, and a fantastic backheel so nearly set up another, if only Saka’s shot hadn’t been fired straight at the chest of Willy Caballero, who joined Southampton just five days ago on a short-term emergency contract.

Despite their dire start, Arsenal should really have ended the half in a greater ascendancy. Ramsdale spotted Martinelli lingering on the halfway line and, while his kick was inch-perfect, the Brazilian should never have been allowed to sprint clean through on goal so simply. To Southampton’s relief, his control let him down at the decisive moment, and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side stumbled down the tunnel bruised and bereft.

They emerged for the second half with little added impetus, although Nathan Tella did his best in brief spurts, drawing a penalty appeal and forcing Ramsdale into action. It is hard to understate quite how significant a spark the goalkeeper has become, and while it was his name that regularly accrued chants behind the goal, at the other end, a third goal had long felt inevitable.

Caballero showed his rustiness at a corner, missing a punch and allowing Gabriel to bundle the ball in at the back post, only for VAR to rule it out for offside. The respite didn’t last for long, though, and when the Brazilian was allowed to leap highest again at a corner minutes later, nothing could deter the centre-back’s header.

It threatened to descend into an onslaught, with an avalanche of chances funnelled down towards Caballero’s goal. In the space of a breathless few minutes, Martinelli and Saka both struck the post, while Odegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu both had efforts saved. But Southampton were able to recompose themselves, with Nathan Redmond forcing Ramsdale into another fingertip save, and Arsenal relented, comfortable in their victory, even if that can never quite tell the full story.

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