Arsenal end miserable run in hard-fought point with Southampton despite Gabriel red card

Arsenal 1-1 Southampton: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cancelled out Theo Walcott’s opener against his former team

Behind the scenes: Arsenal score four against Dundalk

Perhaps, it was only fitting that a player so intimately familiar with Arsenal’s flaws was the one to expose them in cold blood. Theo Walcott’s opener was reminiscent of his headiest days at the Emirates, a streaking surge through defence followed by a deft chip over the onrushing goalkeeper. And no sooner had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finally ended his miserable goal drought did Walcott lean on old vestiges again, luring Gabriel into a second yellow card that replaced any flecks of Arsenal hope with spirited survival instincts.

Mikel Arteta’s side held on for a 1-1 draw, which was valiant under the circumstances and an end at least to a torrid run of defeats, four consecutive at the Emirates, but that will provide little solace for a team trapped in the most alarming of cycles. Arsenal have now taken just two points from the last 18 and are teetering dangerously towards breaking point; the bottom-three still within clawing distance. For Southampton, who were tremendous again, this was a case of points dropped rather than gained as their unlikely assault on a European place continues.

It took little over 10 minutes for Arsenal to descend into familiar patterns and for Mikel Arteta to tap into his various degrees of frustration - agitation as Eddie Nketiah failed to drop deep, despair as Nicolas Pepe jinked into brick walls, plain incandescence as attempts to play out the back wandered naively into Southampton’s ambushes. Arteta rang the changes in an attempt to break his side from their slump, but the lack of imagination was still frightening, the same errors played out in loops, and for a meticulously drilled Southampton side it threw up no surprises.

READ MORE: Five things we learned as 10-man Gunners survive to end home losing streak against Southampton

Wallowing in their lowest ebb, Walcott evoked the memories of his old home and took advantage clinically. The 31-year-old has always been a kind-hearted assassin but there was no mercy about his opener, bursting into the space between Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka and casually dinking the ball over Bernd Leno in vintage fashion. It was Walcott’s signature, the type that so often made the Emirates crackle and roar, and even without supporters, Arsenal appeared weighed down by the absent groans.

Walcott finishes to put Saints ahead

In the stands, Arsenal’s technical director, Edu, who felt the need to offer his public support to Arteta earlier this week, shook his head ruefully. Southampton were composed, broke in numbers and scuffled relentlessly when troubled. In truth, though, those moments were few and far between. A delicate pirouette from Dani Ceballos, the man charged with breathing life into a suffocated attack, was met with a disdainful shunt from Jan Bednarek that brought calls for a penalty. A few minutes earlier, Pepe might have scored after a rare break forwards from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but drilled his shot low and into a sea of legs.

It is the hope and struggle that epitomises Arteta’s Arsenal, the tantalising promise of ideas that have not quite formed into reality. The manager arrived as a pristine matinee idol and early success teemed with hope and possibility. That facade has melted, and as the players failed to heed a manic flurry of instructions, he bore something closer to an undertaker directing his own funeral.

After a notably brief half-time team talk, it was Aubameyang, finally ending a chastening 10-game goal drought, who managed to briefly dig Arsenal from that grave. Playing with a renewed vigour, Saka chested the ball down and skipped brilliantly between three defenders before finding Nketiah in the box, whose cute lay-off was poised perfectly at the captain’s feet. As Southampton’s defence seemed to freeze in resignation, Aubameyang paused for a second before whipping a shot into the bottom corner. The cathartic celebrations told a story of their own, partially in ecstasy but more so relief. For Arteta, too, there was a wild uppercut towards the bench.

Walcott challenges Aubameyang 

Arsenal were not quite free-spirited, but certainly unshackled. Saka cut inside, waltzed into space on the edge of the box, from where a low shot off his weaker right foot was tipped around the corner by Alex McCarthy. But with every venture outside of their straitjacket, the seeds of implosion were planted. Gabriel, one of the few players to emerge from Arsenal’s recent collapse with praise, blatantly dragged down Walcott and the second yellow card was brandished by referee Paul Tierney. It is already Arsenal’s third sending off this season. It will be painted as ill-discipline. Perhaps, it is rooted more deeply in desperation.

From there, the sense of inevitability felt crushing and Southampton’s onslaught began. Nathan Redmond latched onto a floated ball over the top and his half-volley ricocheted against the top of the crossbar. As the match ebbed into its frantic final stages, Redmond’s vicious long-range shot was again denied by the woodwork. A further two penalty calls fell on deaf ears before Arsenal almost conjured a miracle from disaster, when Rob Holding’s header thudded against the bar. It would have been bitterly cruel on Southampton and, while Arteta was aghast, in this current slide, he is no stranger to seeing things fall the wrong way.

It was Southampton, then mired in a relegation battle, who put the final domestic puncture in Unai Emery’s lead balloon a year ago. The echoes of support heard this week from the club’s hierarchy will lend Arteta more sympathy, but Arsenal are stretching the definition of their lowest ebb. There is only so long the dive can be allowed to continue before the illusion is shattered permanently.

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