Three very welcome points is very important, of course. And there is no doubt that we needed a dollop of red and white luck to get them against a resilient and good footballing Southampton.
Arsene made three changes from our win against the Hornets and it is fair to say we did not start brightly. The team lacked energy and drive, despite playing three fast players up front with the Ox, Perez and TheO, and playing two play makers in Santi and Mesut. The latter two started very quietly and the former three hardly had any of the ball in the first part of the first half. The Saints looked calm and in control, playing some easy on the eye football with plenty of penetration and danger up-front – just like they did against the Mancs a few weeks ago. Especially Tadic, Redmond and Rodriguez, supported deeper by the excellent ex-Chav Romeu, were very comfortable on the ball and we did not make it hard enough for them.
They scored from a well taken free-kick that needed a big dollop of luck though, as Cech scored his second career own goal with his back pushing the ball over the line. You would have expected Arsenal to up the tempo after the goal but we still lacked collective drive, with Santi being pushed back too much and the four of Ozil, Ox, Theo and Perez not involved in the game enough.
The game needed something special and it came from one of the two Arsenal birthday boys: King Koz.
Our CB scored a brilliant overhead kick that will have ha the approval of Zlatan, no doubt. We did not do enough until then to deserve the equaliser but Laurent has a knack of scoring very important goals, as he did four times last season.
That goal gave us back our mojo, at least in terms of playing football in the Saints’ half rather than ours. All of a sudden the Saints were happy to park the buss and we could push forward both Mustafi and the energetic Coquelin to help the attackers. Yet we missed sharpness, movement and creativity, and this especially from Ozil and our mid-wingers. We also missed the goal threat of Giroud and/or Alexis up-front which made the team look like it was missing its normal focussed and aggressive identity.
For some reason, the combination of players in our starting eleven did not work well yesterday. Was it perhaps too much to ask of Perez to start with the Ox next to him rather than Alexis or Giroud? Theo and Ox are the sort of players who have good moments in a game but do not add enough to the team to be picked together in the starting eleven imo. One of them is more than enough, and then I still think Iwobi, or indeed my personal favourite Joel Campbell (now out on loan unfortunately), would serve the team better on many occasions.
The second half started not much better. Tempo too low, movement too predictable, Ozil not involved enough, and Perez struggling to translate his presence in the box into clear cut chances and a goal. Luckily, Santi was getting into the grove now, working hard to get the team going by finding gaps and getting as close as possible to the Saints’ D’.
It was clear though that we needed to bring on Giroud and Alexis to lift the game and get that extra bit of quality into the box, even though we started to play a lot better from around the 55th minute. Perez worked hard and you can see how he could fit into the team, it will take a bit of time though.
As soon as we brought on the Frenchman and Chilean we looked sharper, but we also gave a way a couple of quite big chances that could have cost us dearly. And that tells you all about the risks and opportunities associated with substitutions, and why Wenger often waits longer with them than most of us want him.
Luckily, we got the penalty and Santi was cool enough to convert it.
- Mustafi settled in quickly and looked solid and composed. Really good to see him drive forward regularly as well. Need to see him more games but that was pretty impressive in front of the home crowd;
- Birthday boy Koz had an outstanding performance and scored a superb goal – so happy he is still a Gooner and let’s hope he will be signed up to end his career at THOF;
- Le Coq had his pecker up and was awesome throughout the game, both in defence and supporting the attack. Xhaka will have been rested for Tuesday’s game no doubt – and I expect us to play Perez, Theo and Alexis up front for that one so Xhaka can help us beat the Parisian Oilers on the break – but yesterday we needed the steel and defensive discipline of Francis Coquelin. And boy did he deliver;
- Santi moving forward in the second half made a big difference in terms of our attacking intent. Ozil was not at his very best today and he needed Santi to add creativity. On top of all his fine passes and crosses, he produced a calm and venomous penalty that left the time wasting Foster picking the ball out of the net. 🙂
- The spine of Cech, Koz(Mustafi), Coq, Santi, and eventually Giroud, held strong and delivered a performance worthy of the Arsenal. Cech, Koz, Coq and Santi were altogether my men of the match. And Ozil and Alexis added the necessary quality to get us over the line, even though the former did not have his best day ever;
- The full backs were driven once again and added a lot of width to the team, but both still need to improve their final ball into the box. Good to see them both taking chances themselves as well, and especially Bellerin was pretty close to scoring a Theo-esque diagonal daisy-cutter;
- Cech’s presence saved us at least two points today, making Shane Long rush and waste his two good opportunities in the second half;
- Perez’s movement and hunger and sheer guts to take on the CF role at the home of football was awesome. I liked his energy and willingness to run and run and get into any available spaces. I rate this Saints’ team highly and reckon they will finish in the top 7-10 this season once they get going. Especially defensively, they are very good and made it hard for our attackers. So not an easy start for Lucas, but more is surely to come.
Up next are the Parisian Oilers. Let’s load the Canon. 😉