Result: Arsenal 1-1 Southampton
Competition: Premier League
Date: 16 December 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, Elneny, Saka, Pepe, Nketiah, Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Cedric, Luiz, Mustafi, Willock, Willian, Lacazette
Arsenal came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw with Southampton at the Emirates on an evening when Mikel Arteta’s men again went down to ten men.
Ex-Gunner Theo Walcott broke the deadlock as the Saints dominated the first half but the Gunners fought back through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s calm finish after great work by Bukayo Saka.
Hopes of a first win in six weeks were soon put on ice when Gabriel was sent off for two bookings in quick succession. The Saints pressed for a winner but it was Arsenal who came closest when Holding hit the bar with a header at the death.
Mikel Arteta made four changes from the side that started Sunday’s defeat to Burnley. Hector Bellerin and Granit Xhaka, both suspended, were replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dani Ceballos. Up front, Nicolas Pepe, back from a suspension of his own took over from Willian on the right side of an attack that was spearheaded by Eddie Nketiah. Alex Lacazette dropped to the bench as a result of the England under-21 international’s inclusion.
Cautious and conservative. Those were the words that came to mind in the opening 15 minutes as Mikel Arteta’s nervous Gunners did their best not to make any obvious mistakes. Passes went side-to-side, we probed a bit and, to the tune of a constant barracking from the dugout, we closed down with intensity. Unfortunately, devoid of confidence there was no hope of free-flowing, one-touch, pass-and-move football; the type of thing that might get Southampton out of second gear.
Hassenhuttl’s players were so comfortable they might as well have been playing in slippers. It was like they knew Arsenal would lapse at some point and sure enough on 18 minutes we did exactly that.
Trying to intercept a ball in the centre of the park, Elneny and Gabriel seemed to tackle each other. When the ball bounced free it was behind them both allowing Adams to play in Walcott. Our former striker raced away from Tierney to dink over Leno. He didn’t take it easy on the celebration either, which is fair enough given he was deemed surplus to requirements a couple of years ago. (0-1)
The goal didn’t spark a reaction from us. Instead, we went further and further into our shell as the visitors popped the ball around like it was a pre-game rondo. Aubameyang and Pepe looked lost on the flanks, Nketiah was isolated up fonr and our midfield partnership of Elneny and Ceballos ran around looking busy but unable to affect proceedings. The cameras caught sight of Edu shaking his head in the stands.
It took until 28 minutes for us to produce anything of note. Aubameyang pulling back for Pepe and the Ivorian’s shot forcing a block from Vestergaard. In the aftermath, Ceballos fired over.
Things mellowed again before another flurry of Arsenal activity towards the break. Ceballos went down claiming his ankles had been clipped just as he was about to shoot – VAR confirmed that not to be the case – and Saka fired in a dangerous cross. Pepe also tried his luck with a snapshot that went straight down McCarthy’s throat.
The signs at the start of the second period were more promising. Saka and Aubameyang played a neat one-two only for the next pass towards Nketiah in the box to go astray.
Saka, as has often been the case in recent weeks, continued to look our most promising outlet. On 53 minutes, Gabriel sprayed a pass out to him on the left flank. Faced with a host of Southampton players, the 19-year-old embarked on a slaloming run, doing well to keep his feet, before squeezing a pass to Nketiah. The striker, in the blink of an eye, spotted Aubameyang’s run, flicked the ball to him and our striker calmly slotted home. A goal. An actual goal from open play. (1-1)
For five minutes or so, we looked decent, then Gabriel picked up two yellow cards in quick succession and suddenly we were down to 10 men. Again. Unbelievable. It was really naive defending on both occasions by the Brazilian who was too eager to steal the ball from his opponent; on the second occasion Walcott.
Nketiah and Ceballos were sacrificed as Arteta sent on David Luiz and Joe Willock. Our aim was to stay as compact as possible, allow the visitors to have the ball in wide spaces and then ensure we covered the box. Redmond still escaped Holding to side-volley a ball over the top against the bar. Substitute Moussa Djenepo’s trickery also made space for a cutback to Ward-Prowse. Holding blocked the shot. The Saints again freed Djenepo inside Maitland-Niles but his effort hit the side-netting.
Pepe’s replacement by Cedric with five minutes remaining was a clear indication we were ready to settle for a point. He went to right-back with Maitland-Niles in front of him. Cutting in from their flank, Redmond tried a curler that went just wide. Djenepo went down in the box crying for a penalty. There was contact from Holding, it was clumsy but he got away with it.
Deep into stoppage time, from a Saka free-kick, Holding had a chance to win it against the run of play. The centre-back crashed an amazing header against the bar from the edge of the box.
In the end, we settled for a share of the spoils, thankfully avoiding a fifth consecutive defeat at home. That’s something. Right now, given our malaise, it’s better than nothing.