Southampton moved out of the bottom three by ending Arsenal’s 22 game unbeaten run in a thrilling and chaotic clash at St Mary’s on Sunday.
Arsenal twice replied to Danny Ings’ headers with Henrick Mkhitaryan equalisers before Charlie Austin headed Southampton ahead for a third and final time after a quite dreadful error by Arsenal keeper Leno.
Arsenal were quickest out of the blocks on the South Coast with Aubameyang denied by a smart stop from McCarthy before Southampton took a twentieth-minute lead as Danny Ings headed home a beautiful Matt Targett cross. Arsenal were quick to respond and eight minutes later, Mkhitaryan nodded in Monreal’s pull back to level the scores. However, Southampton were clearly the better side buoyed by a stirring home crowd and again took the lead as Ings looped home a header from a Nathan Redmond cross. The goal on the stroke of half-time handed Southampton a deserved lead and maintained Arsenal’s record of not having a lead at half-time all season.
Half time saw Lacazette introduced for the injured Bellerin and the French striker set up Mkhitaryan for a second equaliser albeit via a cruel deflection. The game seemed to be heading for a draw until Shane Long fizzed in a cross which Leno came flying out for only to completely miss; allowing Charlie Austin, a replacement for Ings, to nod into an empty net.
The Southampton win was Ralph Hassenhuttl’s first in charge of the Saints and takes them out of the bottom three whilst sending Arsenal out of the top four, three points behind fourth fourth-placed Chelsea.
Battle of the makeshift back fives
Both managers opted for three centre-backs flanked by wing backs and both had to make do without key personnel. Southampton were without Bertrand and Cedric and started with a back five of Valery, Bednarek, Vestergaard, Yoshida and Targett, who before Sunday had played just 22 league games combined this season. Whilst they were grateful to two decent saves from their goalkeeper they were more than a match for Arsenal’s attack and one last gasp sliding tackle on Aubameyang by Bednarek denied Arsenal a certain goal from a yard out.
With more established names on the way back, the Southampton starters on Sunday at least gave their new manager something to think about as he plots their relegation escape.
Arsenal on the other hand were not at the races at all. With Kolasinac a late injury worry, joining Holding, Sokratis and Mustafi on the missing list, Emery opted for Bellerin and Monreal at wing back with centre-backs of Koscielny (first game since April), Lichsteiner (a fullback yet to play 90 minutes this season) and midfielder Granit Xhaka.
It is hard to say Arsenal were a shambles but there were clear faults for all three goals and Emery will hope that Sokratis and Mustafi will recover to play with Koscielny as soon as possible. Koscielny will need time to get fit again and was left exposed for the two Ings headers while Leno’s blunder was the final straw for a beleaguered Arsenal defence.
Cross of the season
In a game revolutionised in recent years by false nines, three number 10’s in the same team and inverted wing-backs on Sunday was a bit of a throwback with four headed goals from crosses, including all three Southampton goals.
The pick of the goals was the opener. Danny Ings did well to lose Koscielny and head past Leno but the goal was made by a quite stunning cross by Matt Targett. The cross by the left-footed wing-back was a prime example of having a “cultured left foot”. The ball curled in from deep on the left with the whip of a Rafa Nadal serve and the dip of a Shane Warne top-spinner, only to straighten up and float pretty much in a straight line towards the six-yard box, leaving Ings with a great chance which he gratefully dispatched.
In an era where slick number 10’s dominate with one-two’s and through balls, this was a rare and exciting reminder of a real whipped in ball in the style of David Beckham at his best.
Leno cause for concern
If Matt Targett was reminiscent of David Beckham, Bernt Leno was more David James. His flailing grasp at Shane Long’s cross left the keeper under the ball and left Charlie Austin with a simple chance for the winner. The goal was almost a replica of one David James gifted Andy Cole in a 1997 title decider in the midst of his “Calamity James” era.
Whilst Leno is a long way from a calamity he is still far from the finished article. This was an even bigger error than the one which cost a goal against Liverpool.
The new goalkeeper was rightly hailed as an upgrade with his feet after Petr Cech’s uncomfortable start to the season. However Cech looks superior with his handling and command of a back four and the jury is still out on whether Leno is Emery’s version of Claudio Bravo – a stop gap before the real version or a goalkeeper growing into his game in the style of a young David de Gea.
Are Aubameyang and Lacazette better as a pair?
Emery started the season reluctant to play both together and even now seems tentative in doing so.
Aubameyang is a better option than Lacazette in the lone forward role but only barely, whereas the rise in the standard of Aubameyang in a wide role instead of Iwobi or Ozil is huge. The pair seem to link up well and both have good goal and assist numbers with the pair averaging a goal contribution every 107 minutes.
Both have good records as substitutes too and, while Emery may value keeping one back to change a game, it may be time to start both regularly and try and avoid firefighting in the second half every single week.
Eyes down look in, it’s Foreign manager bingo
Huge gamble. Foreigner. Not used to our game. What does he know about this country?
The appointment of Ralph Hassenhuttl brought the usual barrage of xenophobia of his credentials. Whilst this correspondent isn’t going to pretend to be an expert on his style at Leipzig, clearly someone who took them to the Champions League may have something substantial to offer over the usual Brexit means Brexit, dour, predictable, stale offerings of Pardew, Allardyce and Hughes. There was the same outpouring of outrage when Nigel Adkins was replaced by Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton so it might be time to judge managers on their career, style and personality rather than the country they were born. Don’t hold your breath mind.
Man of the match – Nathan Redmond
A huge mention should go to Danny Ings who was a huge threat and scored two superb headers, but Nathan Redmond was a constant menace drifting from wide areas into central ones and causing problems for the Arsenal back line. Redmond has flattered to deceive at Southampton but based on Sunday’s performance he could be a huge threat in Hassenhuttl’s system and it can only be hoped he recovers from the injury that forced him off.