“It was a very good important three points. We knew we had roll our sleeves up and really fight for the three points … It was difficult … They came out really strong in the second half but the boys worked really hard in the heat.”
About his goal, he says: “We work a lot on our high press and I think we did it really well today. I just kept following in. I’ve done that about 100 times so it’s nice that one of them led to a goal.”
Full-time: Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
Arsenal climb into the top half thanks with a performance that will encourage Mikel Arteta. Granted, Southampton were lacklustre and goofed badly for both goals, but Arsenal showed qualities that they have lacked all too often in recent years: solidity, discipline and method. And young players such as Saka, Nketiah, Holding (OK, youngish) and Willock confirmed that the club has lots of promise coming through. Far harder tests await but this suggested that some players are listening to Arteta, who omitted Guendouzi from the squad for attitude reasons.
90+5 min: Elegant cross from the left by Saka. Lacazette darts in to meet it but glances his header wide from seven yards.
90+4 min: Sky’s Alan Smith has named Rob Holding as man of the match. It’s a good decision, as the centreback has typified Arsenal’s no-nonsense defending. He can forget about a new contract. Honk!
90+3 min: Aubemeyang wraps his foot around a shot from 20 yards. McCarthy saves comfortably.
Southampton substitution: Romeu and Vestergaard on, Ings and Hojbjerg off. is that the Dane’s last appearance for Southampton?
GOAL! Southampton 0-2 Arsenal (Willock 87)
From just inside the D, Lacazette curled the freekcik into the wall. It rebounds back to him and he fires a low hard shot through the human barrier this time. McCarthy spills it … and Willock follows up to ram in his first league goal for Arsenal!
RED CARD! Stephens is sent straight off for accidentally taking down Aubameyang as the striker sprinted on to a loose back pass (by Ings, I think). The deffener made an seemingly honest attempt for the ball but he didn’t get enough on it and took down Aubemeyang. Another self-inflicted setback by the Saints.
84 min: Southampton continue to have most of the ball but they can’t pick a way through Arsenal, who have defended well.
81 min: Xhaka, who has played well today, mislays a pass as he tries to orchestrate a counter-attack.
Arsenal substitutions: Lacazette and Maitland-Niles on, Nketiah and Ceballos off.
78 min: Stephens produces a splendid pass from the back Long, having peeled away from Mustafi, takes it beautifully on his chest and on the run and then unloads a rasping shot from 16 yards. Martinelli beats it away, and Ings can’t get to the rebound.
73 min: Ward-Prowe swings over a cross from the right after good work by Walker-Peters. Ceballos’ attempted clearance is pap, as the ball skims of the top of his head and on to Redmond, who controls it nicely and fires a snapshot into the sidenetting. If that had been on target it would have been a proper test for Martinez, who has not had much to deal with it so far.
70 min: During a break in play, the camera picks up Ozil in a seat in the stands, sitting with his feet up and holding a dainty parasol. Now what words does that picture paint?
68 min: Arsenal are beginning to sink very deep. Armstrong is allowed to pick up the ball wide on the right and bustle his way in-field before walloping a shot just ove the bar from 20 yards.
66 min: After a spell of Saints pressure that Arsenal absorb competently, the visitors launch a counter-attack through Nketiah and Aubameyang. They combined nicely right up until the last pass, when their attack fizzled out.
64 min: Arsenal go to sleep as Saints take a throw-on the left . Long pokes the ball on to Ings, who can’t keep down his shot from 10 yards.
62 min: Ward-Prowse flicks on a corner at the near post. Bednarek fetches it beyond the far one and sends it back across the face of goal. But arsenal bundle it to safety.
59 min: Walker-Peters whips over a useful cross. Holding is in the way, as he has been for most of the evening so far.
56 min: Saka is a delight. He leads a flowing Arsenal counter-attack which looks like yielding a goal until the backtracking Ward-Prowse makes a vital block.
54 min: Whatever about the lack of fans, a Premier League in which Arsenal are disciplined, diligent and smart is going to take some getting used to after all these years of drift. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: there’s more than half an hour left….
52 min: Martinez picks out Aubemeyang with a fine long kick out of his hands. The Gabonese hurtles down the left and into the box. He could shoot. But he selflessly tries to feed Nketiah, who running into the centre of the box. Bednarek slides in to poke the ball back to the keeper! A goal-saving intervention for sure.
50 min: A sweeping move down the left by Southampton, who’ve found a bit of urgency. When the ball is pulled back to the edge of the area, via a deflection, Ward-Prowse tonks his shot a couple of yards over the bar.
47 min: Walker-Peters collects a long diagonal pass and scampers towards the Arsenal box. But Saka keeps pace with him and puts the ball out for a corner, which come to nowt.
46 min: Walker-Peters has replaced Valery for the second half. That can be taken as a tribute to Saka, who clearly had the better of Southampton’s first-choice right-back. Also, Long has come on for his compatriot, Obafemi.
Half-time: Southampton 0-1 Arsenal
The goal presented to Nketiah by McCarthy is the difference between the two teams. Arsenal have managed their lead pretty well since then, not that Saints have seemed hellbent on equalising. It’s a low-key game in the sun. Hasenhüttel should get a-hollerin’ at half-time.
45 min: Stephens rolls a pass back to McCarthy. Remembering what happened last time, Nketiah chases after it. McCarthy seems unflustered and calmly passes back to Stephens. Nketiah is inches away from intercepting.
42 min: Ward-Prowse sends a corner towards the edge of the six-yard box. Holding makes it is and heads emphatically clear.
41 min: Good tackle by Bellerin to tip the ball away from Bertrand after Southampton mounted a decent attack, with Armstrong and Obafemi instrumental in it. “VAR exists to overturn clear and obvious errors,” notes CP Pricey. “So can we take another look at David Luiz contract extension?”
39 min: Arsenal pop passes around with something close to a swagger. Southampton’s early vim has faded and now they are standing off the visitors. That suits Arsenal fine. It’s doesn’t make for great TV, though.
37 min: Arsenal are looking comfortable. That, of course, is when they are their most dangerous to themselves.
35 min: Saka has looked dangerous every time he’s got the ball, gliding past Valery on a regular basis.
32 min: Tierney spanks a long diagonal cross from halfway towards Bellerin, roving forward down the opposite flank. Bertrand does well to halt the Spaniard’s progress and then relieve him of the ball.
29 min: Kevin Towl writes in to note that Nketiah deserves credit for putting pressure on McCarthy, which is a fair point. “Credit for chasing lost causes,” writes Kevin of a quality that Arsenal have seldom shown lately.
28 min: With an exquisite piece of control Ings takes down a pass into the box and then flips the ball to Redmond, who smashes it across the face of goal. Armstrong lunges at it but can’t get a telling touch.
23 min: After Bellerin gives the ball away in the opposing half, Southampton attack the space behind him. Armstrong ultimately gets off his team’s first shot on target. All it does is give Martinez a nice easy taste of the action.
GOAL! Southampton 0-1 Arsenal (Nketiah 20)
A bizarre mistake by McCarthy gifts a goal to Arsenal. The goalkeeper ambled out of his box to receive a passback, then took a touch to control it before sidefooting a pass … straight to Nketiah! The striker, closing on in from about six yards away, accepts the present and lopes past the goofing keeper to roll the ball into the empty net. Did the heat get to the keeper? That was a real brain-melting moment. Is Arteta’s luck beginning to turn?
18 min: Ceballos flashes over a dangerous corner. Ward-Prowse, of all people, leaps high to head clear.
15 min: A reply of Aubemeyang’s shot shows that McCarthy got a tiny but possibly critical touch on it. If he had not done so, the shot might have gone into the net via the underside of the bar. Meanwhile, Mary Waltz is not dancing around the issue of David Luiz’s new contract. “Arteta is a good man, he will be a fine coach,” mails Mary. “But signing David Luiz to a new contract was a massive error. Yes he shows signs of brilliance in moments but he always has that moment where his brain shuts off. Arteta could have let him go and no one would have blamed him.” Arteta values David Luiz’s character and, also, if he let him go, what kind of replacement would Arsenal sign?
14 min: Ceballos dithers on the ball just inside his own half. Ings pinches it off him and scurries towards the Arsenal box, weaving his way into a shooting position. But Holding keeps track off him and blocks his shot.
12 min: A Southampton freekick from the left is cleared as far as Armstrong, who has a bang from nearly 30 yards. He strikes it powerfully but nowhere near the target.
10 min: A long, curling pass from Tierney in the left-back position gives Aubameyang something to chase. Of course he wins the race, leaving Saints’ defenders in the dust as he collects the ball and dashes into the box from the left. He shapes to curl towards the far corner with his right foot … McCarthy goes down … and the striker sidefoots a powerful shots over him … and onto the crossbar!
9 min: Good from Arsenal! A crisp passing move concludes with Xhaka sliding a pass through to Saka, who lays the ball across the face of goal from the left, leaving Pepe with a tap-in. But Saka was offside when he received the pass so there’s no score. Encouraging precision and movement from Arsenal, though. Apart from the offside, obviously.
7 min: Ceballos pounces on a mistake by McCarthy and feeds Aubameyang, who lashes off a shot from 20 yards … and an offside position. It wouldn’t have counted, but the keeper felt the need to atone for his error anyway and made the save.
6 min: Southampton have had most of the ball so far but Arsenal have kept a good shape and not ceded any openings. It’s all happening at a fairly sedate pace, which is probably to be expected with the heat.
4 min: Aubameyang works back diligently to nick the ball off Valery at the left-hand corner of the Arsenal box.
3 min: The home side have made the brighter start, without threatening. Arsenal haven’t pieced together any kind of passing sequence yet.
1 min: Southampton kick off. That means knocking the ball backwards for someone to boom a long diagonal pass towards the left-hand touchline. It’s what nearly everyone does.
Arsenal, dressed in a sunny all yellow kit, are full of smiles as they await kickoff. Certainly no sign of angst in their demeanour. Either they are confident or they’re not much bothered about the kick-around. We’ll soon find out which it is.
Weather check: It’s 30C at St Mary’s. The forecast says rain is due at some point in the coming hours but right now the sky is like postcard from the Caribbean.
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Southampton’s manager notes the intense heat on the south coast and declares: “the fitter team will win today.” If that’s true, a home win seems the smart bet (note: betting is not smart).
Arteta on Guendouzi’s abence
Asked why the feisty young Frenchman is not included today, Arteta says “It’s squad management. Squad management.” And then adds intriguingly: “Whatever internal issue we have, we deal with it privately.
As you can see from the lineups below, Arteta has made four alterations to the side that started the defeat to Brighton. Leno’s injury means Martinez gets the goes, while Xhaka’s recovery means Guendouzi can … have the evening off: he’s not even on the bench. But Kolasinac and Lacazette are, as they are replaced by Tierney and Nketiah. Ozil is back in the squad but only as an onlooker for the moment. Southampton, meanwhile, stick with the same side who thumped Norwich six days ago.
Southampton: McCarthy; Valery, Stephens, Bednarek, Bertrand; Armstrong, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg; Obafemi, Redmond, Ings.
Subs: Gunn, Walker-Peters, Vestergaard, Voskins, Romeu, Smallbone, Long, Tella, Adams
Arsenal: Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Ceballos, Xhaka; Pepe, Saka, Aubameyang; Nketiah
Subs: Macey, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Smith, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Ozil, Lacazette, Willock
Referee: C Kavanagh
A post-lockdown mid-table skirmish in oppressive heat does not sound like a must-watch, but this has the makings of a fascinating match. Southampton begin three points lower in the table but seems to be in a slightly better place than Arsenal insofar as they are edging their way to brighter days under a manager who knows what’s what. Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, is still trying to make sense of the puzzle that is Arsenal. That might not even be possible, but we can sure look for clues today.
Southampton resumed the season impressively by trouncing Norwich at Carrow Road last weekend, and they will be aiming to reproduce that form at St Mary’s, where they have struggled this season, which is why they have the worst home record in the Premier League. But Arsenal do not look like fearsome visitors – they have won only twice away all season and, of course, flopped on the south coast last weekend by losing in the last minute Brighton.
That defeat confirmed that Arteta is still far from knowing how to move forward with Arsenal, a team with lots of skill but a shortage of balance, creativity, gumption and a midfield, amongst other things. They’ve also been out of luck recently, with Bernd Leno’s injury against Brighton deprived him of another key player. It’s not always easy to know who is a key player for Arsenal these days: is Alexandre Lacazette? Is Nicolas Pépé? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? Mesut Ozil? How about Dani Ceballos, whose loan was extended this week? Or David Luiz, who signed a new contract on Wednesday? There are lots of questions about this Arsenal team. This is their latest chance to begin fleshing out convincing answers.
Let’s be having you!