Thursday, January 30, 2014

Southampton 2 Arsenal 2

Although there is an argument if we were lucky to come away with a point or a point was a fair result, there is no denying that we dropped two points. But more than the result, we are disappointed with Arsenal's performance.

Arsene Wenger made 6 changes to the side that started in a 4-0 victory over Coventry City in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Szczesny and Giroud replaced Fabianski and Bendtner, respectively, while Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal came in for Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs at the full-backs. Fit-again Arteta and Flamini came in for Oxlade-Chamberlain and the injured Wilshere. While the England pair looked too offensive in the Coventry match, Flamini-Arteta partnership looked too defensive. We desperately missed Ramsey, Rosicky or Wilshere, who can drive forward from a deeper position. In the press conference prior to the match, Wenger stated that Vermaelen and Arteta would be back in the squad, but they were unlikely to start. Despite the Frenchman's intention to ease Arteta back into action, the Spaniard was included in the starting line-up. With Wilshere and Ramsey not available, choices for the central midfield were limited. Poldi was dropped to the bench, much to our dissatisfaction.

Arsenal were a second best side throughout the first half. Southampton deserved to be in the lead at half time, even though their goal came from a free kick they shouldn't have had. Credit to the Saints, they executed their style of pressing game in an energetic fashion. They didn't give us much time on the ball and dominated in possession. However, as much as Southampton looked good, Arsenal were poor. Some cite tired legs for their lacklustre display as Arsenal coach only arrived at St. Mary's 45 minutes before the kick-off, having got stuck in traffic. Wenger didn't give his analysis on the reasons behind his side's poor display, only stating "We had some problems to get into the pace of the game", but we all know that pressing and closing down on their opponents high up the pitch is Southampton's tactic. We have to say that Wenger did not set his side well for the game. Flamini and Arteta left a big gap between them and the front four, which was exploited in a number of times by the outnumbering Southampton midfielders.

Considering their domination, Southampton deserved the lead, but their opener shouldn't have happened. The build-up to the goal was initiated from a free-kick which shouldn't have been given as Mertesacker won the ball fair and square. Then, Jose Fonte committed a foul on Monreal when he connected a cross from the left flank with a header. We were extremely unlucky with these two key decisions. Then, there was a strong penalty case against Fonte's handball.

On conceding an equaliser so soon after taking the lead, Wenger explained that misunderstanding on the long ball between Sagna and Mertesacker led to it, but also admitted that his side might have switched off. Having two experienced defensive midfielders in Arteta and Flamini to protect the back four, this was very disappointing. Arsenal back four's solidity was also questioned. Previously they conceded more than one goal a game in the league only once (Man City).

Wenger was seemingly relatively happy with his side's comeback in the second half. However, he expressed his regrets on conceding the second goal immediately after his side took the lead and having had to play with 10 men in the last 10 minutes, which made it extremely difficult for Arsenal to push for a winner.

Bad news was revealed after the match in the Frenchman's interview that Aaron Ramsey had an injury setback during a Monday training session. According to the boss, the Wales midfielder damaged the same muscle (thigh) a bit again, which ruled him out for the this game and some more weeks. Some reports claim that Ramsey has suffered a tendon problem, in which case he will be out for much longer. Combined with Flamini's three-match ban, Ramsey's longer-than-expected lay-off is a huge blow. In the absence of Ramsey, Jack Wilshere's return cannot come any sooner. The England midfielder, who suffered an ankle problem from the Coventry game, is set to miss the next game against Crystal Palace, but should be back for a clash with Liverpool in the following week. We were also worried about Rosicky's fitness status. On Thursday, Wenger revealed that the Czech midfielder had problems after surgery on his nose, but he could be fit for Sunday's game against Crystal Palace, which is good news.

Amid the injury problems ahead of a tough February fixture schedule, Wenger suggested that Arsenal are hoping to sign new players. Hopefully, we will see a new signing or two to strengthen depth before the January transfer window closes on Friday night.

The two points dropped is not the end of the world. Especially, after Chelsea dropping two points against West Ham at Stamford Bridge, our result does not look too bad. But what is more important than the result of the game is now how Arsenal will respond to this disappointment. So far this season, they have done it brilliantly, most notably after the opening-day defeat to Aston Villa. Hopefully, their first-half performance was just a blip. After Man City defeated Tottenham 5-1 at White Hart Lane, we dropped to second. But we can reclaim the top spot if we get the three points on Sunday before Man City and Chelsea play each other on Monday night. Depending on the result (as long as Man City don't win), we could stay top. In anyway, we will be still very much in the title hunt.

Players rating

Szczesny 7
He could have done better to stop the first goal going in. Made a couple of fantastic saves late to earn us a hard-fought draw. Made a last-man tackle after coming out of his area.

Sagna: 6
Provided an assist with his low shot cum cross for Giroud to nudge a back heel. 

Mertesacker: 6
Wasn't his usual reassuring self, but still made 5 interceptions and 12 clearances

Koscielny: 6

Not his best game.

Monreal: 6
Although it is harsh to blame him for the opener, he didn't have a great game. He had a great chance to score as well, but he dragged it wide. Some of us insisted that Gibbs should have started, but after Monreal had performed admirably in the past games, it is now difficult to tell which is our first-choice left-back. Monreal's weakness was his lack of pace, but he seemed to have overcome that. One thing sure is that we have no problem with the left-back position, having two good players in Monreal and Gibbs.

Flamini: 5
Made a last-grasp tackle. Shown a red card for his two-footed tackle. Maybe a little harsh because it was not dangerous at all, but he should have known better. Despite his hard-man image, this was his first red card in the Premier League. Most of the media reported that he would be suspended for the next four matches, based on the assumption that another fixture would be added to a regulatory three-match ban for a straight red card as he has already served one-match ban this season after collecting 5 yellow cards. Actually, he will miss
 the next three fixtures against Palace (H), Liverpool (A), and Man U (H).

Arteta: 5
Perhaps his worst game ever. He was not up to the speed after resuming full training only the day earlier. He needs to sharpen up quickly in the absence of Flamini. The number of his passes (54) tells the whole story about how Arsenal did not play their football. Still, his completion rate at 91% was not bad.

Gnabry: 6

His consistency has been impressive for his age, but he probably could have done with a breather for this game.

Özil: 7

Set up a goal for Santi. He broke with the pace from his own half, driving through Southampton defence, but his shot deflected off Fonte before looping over Boruc onto the crossbar.

Cazorla: 6

Scored a well-taken goal from just outside the area. However, he was dispossessed 4 times and some of his passing was sloppy. His 78% passing success rate was poor, even when the team average was worse than usual at 80%. Withdrawn in the 86th minute, reportedly due to an injury.

Giroud: 7
Scored his 10th league goal with a cute back heel. He also worked hard defensively, keeping us in the game.  



Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
70th-minute substitute for Gnabry.

Gibbs: 6
86th-minute substitution to replace Cazorla. Slotted into his familiar left-back position, with Monreal moving forward in turn. It was a bemusing substitution to us, especially with Poldi still on the bench, when we were chasing for a winner, but with a man down, probably Wenger's intention was already "if we cannot win the game, don't lose it".

Podolski: N/A
Replaced Giroud in the 90th minute. Little time to make an impact. We want to see him play alongside Giroud, not instead of him.

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