Yesterday Arsenal faced Southampton at the Emirates in the Third Round of the League Cup. Arsenal had rung in some serious changes from the fixture against Aston Villa, with only one team member being retained from that team. Southampton had also rested a few key players, making five changes from their winning team of the weekend. While Southampton are a tricky opponent who are very difficult to break down, few would have expected the Gunners to be on the losing side.
Also, Wenger had picked a strong midfield, with the likes of Wilshere, Sanchez, Podolski and Rosicky all featuring. As such, most expected the Gunners to score freely. But in a very lively and entertaining fixture, the Saints refused to be intimidated by their illustrious opponents, and very constantly pressing upfield whenever they got a chance.
Arsenal opened the scoring, with Sanchez curling in a beautiful free kick, but after that we struggled to make headway against a resolute and organised Saints defence. And all the while the Saints were looking for openings of their own, and they levelled with a penalty taken six minutes after our goal, as Rosicky fouled Mane in the box.
There followed a moment of magic from full back Nathaniel Clyne. Hanging back during a corner, the ball fell to him 35 yards from goal when Arsenal’s defenders cleared their lines. He only took one touch before smashing home a swerving shot that left debutant keeper Ospina with no chance. Despite Arsenal’s best efforts in the second half, they were unable to equalize and in fact we were lucky to not lose by a bigger margin thanks to some wayward shooting by the visitors.
Wenger was understandably disappointed when speaking to the media:
It’s disappointing because we had a good start and we made two unnecessary errors on the two goals – they were big ones. We lacked a bit of experience at the back. I agree with you but overall they did well. We gave a lot and it’s frustrating as we were not able to score in the second half. When you look at the amount of possession we had you have to give credit to Southampton. They played well and were very organised. They abused the fouls in the middle of the park but they are a good side and they played well tonight. Overall it’s frustrating because we gave a lot. The free-kick was fantastic.
I don’t want to go into any individual assessment because it’s always very easy after defeat – but I felt we gave a lot. I cannot fault the spirit and I cannot fault the attitude. I think the first reason for our defeat is the quality of our opponent and the performance of our opponent. The fact that we couldn’t score – we scored from a free-kick but apart from that we couldn’t score. If you look at the amount of possession we had in the second half, and you play for so long with the amount of possession we had, you have to score.
He also made it clear that the defeat was not the fault of the younger players, and that the team as a whole failed. Rosicky was responsible for giving away the penalty that led to the first goal, and Podolski in particular looked off colour.
I think if we lost the game tonight it’s not because of Hayden and it’s not because of Chambers. It’s not because of Coquelin. We have to be realistic.
Wenger also clarified that the League Cup was not a priority for him, and despite the defeat he had no regrets. He clarified that the small squad of Arsenal made it unrealistic for him to compete on so many fronts.
[The League Cup is] Not for me. Honestly. Everybody in the stadium wants to win but that’s a luxury that not many people can afford. I wanted to win, I wanted to win this game. You have to say the Premier League is difficult and Southampton are a good side.
This loss, though not ideal, can still be dealt with. Like Wenger said, the Premier League is a greater priority and he was resting his squad members for the games to come against Spurs and Chelsea. If we are able to get good results in those fixtures, then no one will complain about the League Cup loss.