Arsenal v Southampton
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: November 23, 2013 3:15 PM BST
First placed Arsenal against third placed Southampton was not a match anyone was expecting at the start of the season, but with both teams showing arguably the best form in the league this season, it was a the game we were getting, and not one we could take lightly. It was fairly obvious that we wouldn’t be in for a similar game to the 6-1 drubbing we handed out last season, and with both teams performing outstandingly from a defensive point of view, I was convinced that the result would be decided by the smallest of margins.
With Flamini suspended, it was a case of who would play along side Arteta in central midfield. The teams were announced, and with Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla and Özil, we were once again playing without any recognized wide men. I assumed Ramsey would once again be deployed out on the right, but it was Jack who lined up in the wide position, leaving the Welshman to slot in beside his captain. Mertesacker rejoined the side after missing our last game with illness, which meant our back five that has been so strong this season, was back and intact.
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The game kicked off with Southampton deploying their usual tactic of pressing aggressively and high up the pitch. Our centre backs and keeper usually see a lot of the ball early on, passing and probing, looking for a way through. With Southampton’s pressing however, they were given very little time on the ball, and we found ourselves lumping the ball up towards Giroud.
Despite this pressure, we were still looking threatening going forward, and looked the more likely to make something happen. Something almost did happen, when Wilshere received the ball in the box and accelerated past two defenders to get to the byline. He dinked the ball delicately over Boruc towards the far post, and it certainly looked goal bound. The ball hit the post however, and rebounded straight into the path of Boruc, despite Giroud and Özil lurking ready to tap it in.
You’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t going to be our day, when minutes later Ramsey hit the same post. Özil picked the Welshman out beautifully in the box, and the inform youngster back-heeled it skilfully goalwards. Again Giroud was there to tap it in had it come back into play, but it hit the post and went out for a goal kick.
The Southampton keeper clearly felt we should have been rewarded for our efforts. When Giroud put him under pressure, Boruc attempted to show off his fancy footwork, turning away from the Frenchman not once, but twice. Giroud dispossessed the Polish shot stopper and passed the ball into the empty net. A gift for Giroud, 1-0 Arsenal.
Our tempo seemed to drop a bit after the goal, not helped by the referee stopping play every time Giroud bumped into someone, but inexplicably allowing Wanyama to kick whoever he wanted. Giroud seemed to pick up a groin injury from one of his bumps, which I’m sure had every Gooner holding his breath at the thought of the impending Bendtner substitute. Thankfully however our talismanic French striker seemed to run it off and the great Dane stayed firmly seated.
After the break Clattenburg clearly realised he’d been a bit lenient on Southampton’s giant Kenyan, and booked Wanyama early on. The defensive midfielder kept up his niggling fouls and aggressive play however, and if you totted up all his transgressions throughout the match, he might have done enough to see red.
Both teams created a number of decent chances in the second half, but nothing clear cut. Szczesny making a number of decent saves, and our midfielders getting a few good shots on goal.
Walcott came on at the seventy minute mark, and while he was fairly anonymous for most of his time on the pitch, it’s great to see him back and you could see the threat he poses. His pace and directness is something we’ve sorely missed, so I can’t wait until he’s match fit.
Our defence was once again incredibly solid, Koscielny in particular with a fantastic performance. He made a number of key blocks, tackles and interceptions, including a great last ditch slide tackle on Rodriguez after the striker had ghosted past Mertesacker.
I felt that 1-0 was never going to be enough in this game, and it was looking like it would be a tense ending to the match, but when Mertesacker was dragged back by his shirt amidst an Arsenal corner, Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot. It was certainly a foul, but in this day and age that kind of thing is commonplace during set pieces, so I was certainly shocked to see it given.
With Arteta having gone off injured earlier, Giroud stepped up and dispatched the penalty. Sending Boruc the wrong way before wrapping his foot around the ball and smashing it in the opposite corner. 2-0 Arsenal, and a much more relaxed ending to the game.
With Liverpool’s earlier draw, this win put us four points clear at the top. This means we will be heading into December top of the table no matter what. The Christmas period is always tough, with a game every three or four days at least until the new year. I think we have a great chance of cementing our top spot over the next month, I do worry about the strain and pressure on Oliver Giroud though. It’s good to have Walcott back as a possible option up front, with Podolski not far from a return either, I still feel we need back up in January though. What do you think?
on winning with no problems…
Yeah, we can go home if you want!
on the midfield resembling one of Arsenal’s great sides…
We have a long way to go to do that but we have the ambition and I think the focus, the concentration, the desire are there. We played against a good Southampton side today who tried to stop us from playing. They did it well and in the end we couldn’t take our chances but we took advantage of their two mistakes. Overall you could see why they have played a draw at Man United, why they had won at Liverpool because they conceded only five goals until today. They are a team who is very well organised and our technical quality helped us to get away with a win today.
on Giroud surprising Boruc…
He maybe surprised the goalkeeper certainly or did the goalkeeper glide a little bit? I don’t know. He did that very well and Olivier [Giroud] is a positive character who is always ready for a battle. He is maybe a little bit different to the rest of the team. He gives us so much with his physical presence, with his link play which he has improved tremendously. He has the mental qualities and a positive attitude.
on Giroud breaking into double figures…
Other strikers will tell you ‘I am not obsessed by scoring goals’ but if they don’t, they are sick! It is a relief on their shoulders. I believe as well that he didn’t expect himself to score so many from the start of the season, but it can only boost his confidence.
on enjoying the physical challenge…
It was a very physical game today and we had to be patient and intelligent not to make the first mistake, because it could have been a very difficult game if we had conceded the first goal. That is where maybe we have improved in our defensive stability when the game is difficult.
on Giroud relishing it…
He has a big frame and he uses his upper body well.
on penalty takers…
Giroud is designated third penalty taker, Ozil is second.
on finding strikers…
I have said many times that Europe still produces many fantastic football players, but if you look well we do not produce strikers well. vVery few, all of the big strikers come from South America. In the summer, you had Falcao going to Monaco, Cavani going to PSG in a big transfer, Suarez everybody wanted to buy him, Higuain has gone to Napoli for a lot of money, but in Europe that is an area where it is difficult to find. In Germany, I can remember in every club you had a big striker, they produced some fantastic ones, but they do not produce young strikers. Is that a consequence of the way we coach? Of modern life? I do not know.
on Giroud’s success with France…
That helps of course. If France had gone out, maybe he would not have chased the ball on the goalkeeper today, I don’t know, maybe pyshcologically it helps.
on whether he’s told Szczesny to avoid it…
Yes – I told him to kick it to me on the bench!
on keeping clean sheets…
We have improved our defensive stability. After an international break you have always two challenges, one is to get the team to focus again as a team because we have been spread all over the world, and you have very little time to get the focus point right. The second is physical, because they all come back in different levels of fatigue, some have not trained a lot. The first point we got right, the team were highly focused, we suffered a bit physically but overall the concentration was there.
on a strong response…
I am convinced that after a break like that, the character is tested. Can you win when you have to in a season like that, straightaway again after a big defeat [to Manchester United]? That was really at stake for us.
He has been out for seven weeks. You could see he is still a bit short physically, but he has not played at all for seven weeks and only one day training with the group, so that will come back quickly.
He has a hamstring problem. I think it will be 10 days.
Here are some of the top tweets from today’s game:
“I hate Boruc so that was doubly-delightful. #Eduardo”
“Kos made a good tackle in the box and the ref didn’t give a penalty!!!!”
“And with that, Giroud makes it double figures for the season. Not bad for a ‘flop’.”
“This result means regardless of what happens next weekend we will be top of the league heading into December”
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Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker Gibbs
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