Arsenal 1 – 0 Southampton
Now that was a game of football. It might not win many beauty awards, and the neutrals will only have liked the second part of the second half; but, from a tactical point of view, very good football was on display tonight.
Koeman developed his initial playing career under Guus Hiddink’s wings, and his current Southampton team play football like PSV Eindhoven used to do under Hiddink’s reign back then. It is structured around a strong defensive shape and discipline and based around the simple, Maureenesque ‘philosophy’ of keeping a clean sheet and nicking a goal when the chances arrive. Hiddink won the Europa Cup One (now CL) for PSV with exactly that approach a few decades ago.
With Wanyama, who had an almost faultless performance and showed once again how useful he could be for us, and Schneiderlin, Koeman has the best midfield shield in the PL. The beauty about the Frenchman is that he can also play football, and he was duly missed by the Saints tonight. From an attacking point of view, the Saints did not perform well enough to hurt us, even though their Italian CF had more than a decent chance to score early on. The forced omission of Schneiderlin was a big advantage for us, which might have turned the game in our favour (and Cork’s injury helped a lot as well of course).
Our defence was also well organised: with BFG and Koz having a relatively easy, but very focussed and aggressive, game; and the FBs played very good throughout the match too. It is absolutely amazing how Chambers plays at such a consistently high level, and yet, he is still so young; and Nacho also really showed desire and high energy levels for the full 93 minutes.
Our DM-shield worked ok too. Flamini kept it simple – he completed 64 of his 69 passes – and did not get involved in our attacking play a lot. Ramsey had the free role and showed a lot of drive, but his lack of touch, his continuously misplaced passes and his over-eagerness to make a difference is holding him, and therefore the team, back.
Ramsey needs to link defence and attack up, so he has a pivotal role to play. Luckily, both Carzorla and especially Alexis helped him out a lot with coming deep to collect the ball and make things happen from there. But of course, this leaves gaps up-front. We can say the same about Welbeck, who was full of drive and desire, but ultimately not very effective – although this changed a bit when Giroud came on.
Bloggers on this site will know well how much I believe Giroud makes all the difference for our team. In the first 65 minutes our attacks were often chaotic and harmless, with lots of runners with energy, but very little cohesion and penetration. Giroud is our mobile anchor: the pivot in our attack around which we base our attacking initiatives. As soon as he came on the play centred around him: midfielders can play the ball into him and fellow attackers can take better positions and find themselves in more space. He also had no fear and found the weak spots in the Saints defence instantly. This, in my opinion, was vital for our attacks becoming more centred and deadly. It was evident that Giroud made such a difference once again as soon as he came on.
We finally cracked the nearly formidable defence of the Saints late on in the game. It was not a beautiful goal but well deserved in the end, even though we were helped a bit by the injury to the impressive Alderweireld, which meant Southampton had to continue with ten men as all subs had already been used. It was good for Ramsey to produce to cool-headed assist, and let us hope he will take this with him into the next game. It was good for Alexis to get a reward for running his socks off all night. This was not one of his best games by all means, but his work ethic and desire to win are phenomenal and it was sweet for him that he got us once again all the three points. At Barca he was one of many great players; at Arsenal he simply is the star at the moment; and boy does he like it, with already 14 goals in all competitions to his name.
And these are very sweet three points. They pull us up to just three points below the Saints now and keep us in touch with all fellow top teams, except the horrible Chavs.
Next up are Stoke: another heavy battle waits. Bring it on!
Written by: TotalArsenal.