Result: Southampton 3-2 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 16th December 2018
Venue: Saint Mary’s
Starting XI: Leno, Bellerin, Lichsteiner, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Aubameyang
Subs: Cech, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Ramsey, Ozil, Lacazette, Nketiah
Arsenal’s 22-game unbeaten run came to an end at Saint Mary’s as Ralph Hassenhutl’s Southampton snatched a 3-2 win courtesy of substitute Charlie Austin’s late header.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan had twice pegged back the home side either side of the break, but the Saints, building on a brace of headers by Danny Ings were not to be denied the three points.
Defeat for Unai Emery’s men, coupled with the weekend’s other results, means we’re now three points adrift of the top four.
Following the late loss of Sead Kolasinac to a thigh problem and the suspensions of Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis, Unai Emery might have been tempted to return to a traditional four-man backline. Instead, he pulled Granit Xhaka into defence, slotting him to Laurent Koscielny and Stephan Lichsteiner. Nacho Monreal returned to the left wing-back position and Hector Bellerin prowled the right touchline. The lineup may have had an unusual look to it, but it was at least balanced.
Our start was controlled but, as usual, lacking zip. We had the first chance on five minutes when Aubameyang tested McCarthy after latching onto a Guendouzi through ball, but after that, we really struggled to work the ball from midfield to attack.
The home side, cheered on by a Saint Mary’s crowd lubricated by free pints, slowly grew into the game. Leno had to field a couple of long shots and Nathan Redmond’s ability to work himself between the lines and his willingness to dribble caused us a few headaches.
It wasn’t the supercharged start that new boss Ralph Hassenhutl might have wanted but by the 20th minute the Austrian was celebrating on the touchline as Danny Ings powered home a header from Targett’s brilliant left foot cross. That the former Liverpool striker found so much space between Koscielny and Xhaka highlighted the rawness of their partnership. Leno had no chance. (1-0)
Going behind hasn’t been unusual this season and our response was swift. A period of patient possession saw us work the ball to the left flank where Iwobi fed Monreal behind the backline. The Spaniard looked up and picked out Mkhitaryan who planted a superb header from the penalty spot past McCarthy. It was his fifth Premier League goal for us since joining in January. (1-1)
In the minutes after the goal, we twice more worked our way behind the Saints defence. First Bellerin had a cross cut out, and then Aubameyang was inches away from connecting with a Torreira pass only to be denied by a last-ditch challenge.
Ridiculously, we contrived to concede another goal out of nothing. For the second time, Ings found space between our centre-halves, this time Koscielny and Lichtsteiner, to loop another header into the top corner. Questions have to be asked about why nobody in a spearmint shirt closed down Redmond. (2-1)
All in all, a pretty shoddy opening 45 minutes that ended with Bellerin trudging down the tunnel with an injury.
Emery switched to a back four to accommodate the loss of Bellerin and on came Alex Lacazette to partner Aubameyang.
We almost had an equaliser immediately. Aubameyang, feeding on a brilliant Mkhitaryan flick, tried to get the ball through McCarthy’s legs but the keeper had taken enough pace off the ball.
Our pressing further up the pitch was obvious for all to see and it soon paid dividends. On 52 minutes Lacazette stole the ball from Romeu on the edge of the Saints box and quickly gave the ball to Mkhitaryan who worked himself onto his left foot. The Armenian was quick to shoot and, courtesy of a massive deflection off Vestergaard, his effort dribbled into the net. (2-2)
With our next attack Iwobi should have put us ahead, but he couldn’t keep his curled effort down. It felt like the home side were there for the taking but instead, we let the game settle into another scrappy phase notable only for a Leno flap at a cross (something of a theme), a Koscielny yellow card and the switching of the injured Redmond for Shane Long.
More good pressing by Lacazette, this time on McCarthy, created a half chance for Aubameyang but he passed up the chance to shoot. On came Ozil for Iwobi, the first time we’ve seen the German in the league since the draw with Wolves in November, and he was joined by Ainsley Maitland-Niles who replaced Lichtsteiner at right-back.
The Saints thought they had a third goal on 76 minutes when Long poked home a loose ball after Leno had acrobatically denied Yoshida’s header from a corner. The offside flag went up.
Aubameyang and Lacazette looked dangerous up front as we pushed the home side deeper and deeper but it was the home side who came up with the quality to find a decisive goal. On the break, Shane Long found fellow sub Charlie Austin and with Leno flapping at thin air the striker header into an empty net at the far post. (3-2)