Result: Southampton 1 – 0 Arsenal
Competition: FA Cup
Date: 23 January 2021
Venue: St Mary’s Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric, Elneny, Xhaka, Willian, Pepe, Martinelli, Nketiah
Subs: Runarsson, Ryan, Chambers, Luiz, Maitland-Niles, Partey, Willock, Saka, Lacazette
Arsenal’s defence of the FA Cup title ended in an uninspiring manner against Southampton in a 1-0 loss. Southampton scored from a cross that deflected off Gabriel.
Southampton deserved the win as they played with vigour against a slow and sluggish Arsenal side.
Aubameyang and Tierney were given a break from match day duties and in their place, Nketiah and Cedric lead the line and play at left back respectively. Martinelli added youthful energy down the left wing while Willian and Pepe were given a chance to play themselves into form.
New loan signing, Ryan, made the bench.
The home side started the game energetically, pegging back Arsenal in their penalty box for most of the first few minutes. The Gunners were given a scare when Ward-Prowse caught them unaware at a corner, whipping his delivery against the crossbar.
Arsenal soon got to grips with the pace of the game, dominating possession but struggled to create too many purposeful moves into the final third with Willian playing in the centre of the park.
It was no surprise that the first big chance of the game came to Southampton’s Che Adams. The forward knocked the ball past Gabriel a little too easily on the counter and lashed the ball low towards the far post. Leno had to be sharp to palm the ball away.
Martinelli responded with a little quick thinking himself, beating the home defence during a free kick routine and received the ball in acres of space. Unfortunately he rushed his shot with his left foot despite having more time than he realised.
Arsenal’s lethargy cost them on the 23rd minute with Southampton taking the lead. The home side had too much time to distribute the ball and moved it to Kyle Walker-Peters on Arsenal’s left. His low driving cross went through Cedric’s legs and deflected off Gabriel, catching Leno off guard as it sneaked under him for the first goal of the game. Southampton 1 – 0 Arsenal (Gabriel own goal)
The goal seemed to provide the home side with energy as they tested Arsenal within minutes after. Ward-Prowse’s long range strike glided just past the post while Bellerin had to be quick just minutes later to block Ing’s dangerous volley in the box.
The rest of the half did not provide much more opportunities for both parties and Arsenal looked disjointed and sluggish. Pepe was often stranded on the right while Nketiah often abandoned his place at the tip of the attack to get a touch of the ball in midfield.
The teams went into the locker rooms with an energetic and vibrant Southampton deserving the lead.
Arsenal’s sluggish play continued and it almost cost them a second goal. Both Arsenal central defenders were caught napping on the 49th minute when Southampton floated in a ball in behind for Ings who finished powerfully. His effort hit the post and deflected off Leno to go out, only to be called for offside.
At this point, the home side had 9 efforts on goal to Arsenal’s paltry 3.
Annoyed with Arsenal’s tepid display, Arteta called on the heavy hitters, Partey and Saka, for Martinelli and Elneny on the 56th minute. That change energised the team with Nketiah’s effort deflected in the box after a clever back heel from Pepe. The resulting corner then saw Holding waste an effort in kicking the ball high over the bar when he should have done better in hitting the target.
Arteta’s final throw of the dice involved Lacazette coming on for Bellerin on 70 minutes, Cedric moved to right back and Saka at left back. This pushed Southampton back with Arsenal bossing possession but the Gunners found it hard to break down the home rear guard.
The closest Arsenal got to scoring was from a nice interchange of passes outside the box between Lacazette and Pepe. Pepe’s tame attempt at goal was parried into Nketiah’s path. The striker side footed the ball only for a defender to kick it off the line and for the referee to call for offside on Pepe.
The final minute saw one last chance for Nketiah but he shanked his half volley wide – a very apt representation of the off colour performance by the Arsenal.
They have to do much better in the same fixture in a few days time if they’re looking to gain a result against the Saints.