The Gunners have made a resounding statement. Hitting Southampton for a six to climb to third in the table and end up with the best goal difference in the League after a couple of goalless draws at the start of the season is nothing short of emphatic.
Arsene put Gervinho in a central striking role. That might have surprised many including Nigel Adkins as his side struggled to cope with the Ivorian’s movement throughout the game. Arsenal came out flying, moved the ball with purpose, and pushed the visitors back.
Southampton didn’t look like a team that came with the intent to park the bus and it might have worked against them as they rarely looked secure when pinned back. The Gunners created a host of chances and took an early lead in the 11th minute when Gibbs’ shot went through the Keeper’s legs and was inadvertently turned into his own net by Hooiveld. Nobody could argue the lead wasn’t deserved.
Podolski had created the goal through his tenacity and drive. The German won a physical tussle just inside the Southampton half before powering forward. As the defenders got attracted towards the ball he was able to slide it in behind into the path of the full-back’s penetrating well-timed run.
For a brief while after the goal, Arsenal seemed unrelenting in attack with the visitors hanging on. But around the 15 minute mark Adkins’ men started getting into the game a bit more as the Gunners stopped pressing high up the pitch. The next fifteen minute period seemed even with Arsenal protecting their goal with two banks of four while Southampton did something similar. Neither side really created clear chances in that period.
Things took a dramatic turn in the final 15 minutes of the first half. A needless foul by Davis led to a free-kick in a dangerous position. Podolski stepped up and delivered. Within a few minutes Gervinho was through on goal as his clever movement foxed the defender. Arteta’s through-ball was measured and inviting. A couple of minutes after the Ivorian buried the ball at the near post, another Gibbs burst down the left produced the game’s second own goal. This time it was Nathaniel Clyne deflecting the ball past his own Keeper.
This 7-8 minute period ended the game as a contest. As was mentioned in the preview, Southampton were very open in defence and allowed the Gunners far too much time and space in attacking areas. It was a bit like the first half of the friendly against Cologne. While such games are an absolute delight to watch, one must not forget few teams will be as loosely organized as Adkins’ side were.
The Gunners took the foot off the accelerator after the fourth goal allowing the visitors some breathing room and a chance to push forward. Just before the half-time whistle, Szczesny ended Arsenal’s run of clean sheets by gifting a goal to the opponents. It came from one of the innumerable back post balls that Southampton delivered. In most cases the defenders dealt with the matter at hand but in this instance the Pole made a complete hash of a routine collection. The ball fell kindly to Fox who guided it home.
Arsenal’s second half performance was a touch nervy and mildly cagey. The visitors saw a lot of the ball. At the end of the first half the Gunners had two-thirds of possession but it evened out by the end. Nevertheless, Arsenal’s defence remained resolute. The back four retained their shape and were able supported by the midfield and wide players. Southampton only had one really clear chance, that too from a mishit shot that trickled kindly towards Lambert at the back post. The striker wasn’t able to hit the target.
The Gunners were threatening on the break. Once again Southampton lacked structure and discipline at the back.
Wenger introduced Ramsey for Coquelin after 67 minutes and the Welshman had an quick impact. Cazorla picked his forward run with an accurate ball, Ramsey showed good individual skill to beat the defender but was unlucky as his shot hit the far post. Gervinho was on hand to tap in.
Walcott completed the rout late in the game with a well-struck left-footed finish after a scramble of sorts in the box.
It was a predictable game as far as the patterns of play were concerned but Arsenal impressed in a couple of vital areas. Firstly, the combination play was outstanding which led to many high quality chances and goals. And at the back the Gunners countered Southampton’s threat from crosses and long distance strikes fairly effectively. But for the Szczesny blip this would have been the perfect performance.
Interestingly, the possession was almost identical as were the passes (Arsenal attempted 567, Southampton 573) and accuracy (Arsenal 88%, Southampton 86). The vital difference was in the final third where the Gunners attempted 168 passes succeeding with 82 percent of those while the visitors only attempted 133 with 65 percent accuracy. Podolski and Cazorla were sublime in the tight spaces. They had the class to convert possession into meaningful opportunities.
Szczesny: Another disappointing day at the office for the Pole. Bad mistake for the goal and shaky distribution. With the team finally starting to defend as a unit, it will be tragically ironical if the Goalkeeper becomes unreliable. Must do better.
Jenkinson: Solid game from the youngster. Saw a lot of the ball and was often under pressure but didn’t make the passing mistakes he’d made against Liverpool. Defended his flank and the back post on his side with tenacity and determination. Didn’t venture forward often but held good positions to relieve pressure from the central areas and move the ball down the line or back.
Mertesacker: Another composed, masterful defensive effort from the big German. Was almost always in the right place at the right time. Passing was back at it’s simple, effective, and accurate best.
Vermaelen: The Belgian had a dominant game at the back. Made five interceptions, won all four tackles, and all four ground duels. It seemed he was focussed on defending and snuffed out danger at the first sign.
Gibbs: Had a license to bomb forward and used it to good effect. Timed his runs superbly, put the balls in the right areas, and reaped rewards. Record books might not show it but he deserved two assists. Was reliable at the back as well.
The central defenders were again well protected which allowed them the freedom to read the game without having to deal with opponents charging at them. They were able to position themselves well and protected the central area in front of the goal impressively. The full-backs had different roles and both played their part admirably.
Arteta: Typical Arteta + Quality ball for the assist.
Cazorla: Another classy game from the Spaniard. Looked assured under pressure and in tight spaces. Again linked well with Podolski but more importantly, it’s beginning to look like other players are also reading his movement and passes.
Coquelin: Tidy game from the youngster but there were moments when he went for something ambitious when simpler, more effective options were available. Needs to tighten up and stick to his role. Should also show up for the ball more often and hold on to it better. He lost possession 10 times in 62 touches, Arteta lost it 8 times in 103. Surprisingly, he didn’t make any tackles and only won 2 out of 8 ground duels.
The midfield had a relatively easy game and Diaby wasn’t missed.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Steady without being spectacular. Seemed too eager to score towards the end. Respectable work rate on the flank.
Gervinho: Moved intelligently and sensed opportunities in the attacking areas. Took his goals well. Was a constant menace for the defenders and was highly disruptive to their limited organization.
Podolski: Was largely responsible for the first goal and totally for the second. Those were the two main events, especially the second as the Saints were rocked by that goal. Completed all his 31 passes, which is truly astonishing for an attacking player. Excellent movement, positioning, and control in tight areas. MotM in my book for the decisive early contribution that settled the game.
Subs: Ramsey played a big part in the fifth and deserved an assist. Walcott got off the mark for the season. Giroud didn’t get the right delivery in the few minutes he was on the pitch.
Wenger: Picking Gervinho down the middle seemed like a masterstroke. His side was well prepared for the limited attacking threats of the opponents and motivated enough to pounce on their weaknesses mercilessly.Follow @goonerdesi