Jan 28th, 2017 by 'holic
Arsene Wenger gave Steve Bould a much-changed team to oversee at St Mary’s. Skhodran Mustafi was the only player to keep his place from last week. There were not even places on the bench for Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, or Olivier Giroud. Martin Keown mentioned that he had heard that Coquelin, Ozil, and Ramsey were injured. If that is true all our senior midfielders are out at the same time. Southampton too made ten changes from the team that beat Liverpool to reach the EFL Cup Final.
We had the first meaningful attempt in the third minute when Jeff Reine-Adelaide’s attempt was deflected for a corner. Just a minute later the same player played in Lucas who side footed just wide of the far post. There was a look of 4-3-3 to us in this opening phase with Reine-Adelaide working alongside Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the engine room.
The front three was a very flexible trio of Theo Walcott, Lucas, and Danny Welbeck. They pulled the Saints defence out of shape and Oxlade-Chamberlain found space for a shot just wide of the target in the eighth minute. The Gunners were starting the match very much on the front foot. Lucas just failed to connect with Hector Bellerin’s ball across the face of goal, but Saints reprieve was temporary.
In the fifteenth minute Maitland-Niles and Lucas combined to send Welbeck clear and the returning striker impudently chipped the ball over the falling goalkeeper, Lewis. The air at St Mary’s filled with the chants of the travelling Gooners, ‘by far the greatest’.
Southampton 0-1 Arsenal
Six minutes later Oxlade-Chamberlain hit a sixty yards cross field ball into the path of Welbeck and another classy finish under Lewis put us firmly in control. London voices filled the night sky again.
Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
Finally the Saints got their first chance when David Ospina went walkabout but Hojbjerg hit is effort wildly over. Arsenal were grateful to their goalkeeper a minute later however when he threw himself spectacularly to deny Long’s volley. The early pattern of the match returned with the Saints apparently happy to defend their final third and not put any real pressure on an inexperienced Gunners midfield.
Mustafi, scorer of his first goal last weekend, attempted to repeat from a corner but his glancing effort went the wrong side of the far post. At the other end Long tumbled theatrically under a challenge from Gibbs and Hojbjerg went much closer than his first effort. Back came the Gunners to put a stranglehold on the tie. Welbeck and Lucas opened up the Saints defence again and Theo Walcott nipped in to apply the finishing touch.
Southampton 0-3 Arsenal
It’s been a while since an Arsenal side have played as well as this in the opening half. The joyless would doubtless observe the lack of quality in the Southampton team, and they would not be wrong, but let’s enjoy the sort of football we produced before the break. The only scare came in the shape of an injury to Ospina after he claimed a cross under challenge from Long. Thankfully he recovered to see out the half.
In the last meaningful action of the half Walcott saved Gibbs’ blushes when he cleared a cross the left-back had allowed by being dispossessed on the edge of his own box. Indeed he and Welbeck had been unstinting in getting back to support the defence when necessary.
We came out of the blocks quicker after the break too but in our opening attack Lewis was able to catch Oxlade-Chamberlain’s over-hit free-kick with ease. Welbeck, wriggling free on the left edge of the box, saw his drive deflected for a corner which ended with Maitland-Niles smashing a rising drive over the crossbar. Southampton too won a corner that was comfortably dealt with by Ospina.
Welbeck’s break ended with Lucas pulling the ball back for Bellerin to force a smart save from Lewis. The Ox sent Walcott scampering into space but he dallied rather than shoot from a tight angle and the chance was gone. We survived a scare of our own making when Ospina and Mustafi dawdled over a ball on the edge of the box but the German finally took control and cleared the danger.
Welbeck combined once again with Lucas and was denied a hat-trick when he ran straight into a pair of Southampton defenders. The hour passed, it was time for changes. Claude Puel, once a player under Arsene at Monaco, decided to withdraw Isgrow and the experienced Long and sent on Tadic and Redmond. Arsene had also sent the message to Neil Banfield on the bench to unleash Alexis for Welbeck. What a performance from Danny on his return.
The returning ex-Saints combined to destroy their former employers in the sixty-ninth minute when Oxlade Chamberlain invited Walcott to bring up a brace with a cool side footed finish. The ‘holic pound was gone with over twenty minutes to play.
Southampton 0-4 Arsenal
Reine-Adelaide, steady if unspectacular, made way for Alex Iwobi to a fine ovation from the travelling Gooners. He and Reine -Adelaide may have been risky selections, but the manager’s judgement was once again validated. I had already tweeted about my chomping on some humble pie at half-time.
Gibbs and Ospina had to be on their toes to deny a rare break from the Saints most dangerous player on the evening, Hojbjerg. The home team, all too late, abandoned defending the final third in favour of a rather tired looking attempt to press the ball in the Arsenal half. Arsenal played keep-ball very well to frustrate a battered team even further.
On the break Alexis held the ball up for what seemed like an age as Walcott came thundering forward to complete his hat-trick with another coolly placed finish.
Southampton 0-5 Arsenal
Oxlade-Chamberlain again found the perfect long pass to give Lucas a chance of a deserved goal but Lewis spread himself well to effect the save. It was the last chance of a very, very good performance by the team facing two big league matches in the coming week.
Some had feared the outcome with a much-changed side, but we answered any question marks about the depth of the squad. On a day when Liverpool’s second-string had fallen at home to Championship opposition, and the neighbours needed an own goal in the seventh of six added minutes to beat a League Two side, we showed we have a great deal in the locker. Southampton were poor, it’s true, but we absolutely put them to the sword. We could do no more.