By Kashif Sharief
Over the years, Arsenal have delighted us with fantastic football and once again they came up trumps in an important FA Cup tie, this time against Claude Puel’s Southampton team, somewhat a bogey side away from home for the Gunners.
The game was played with such ruthless professionalism by the Gunners that we could hardly recall the swift exit Southampton had handed the team not so long ago in the League Cup quarter finals at Emirates Stadium. Reflecting on the months since the embarrassing exit, we analyze what has led to the reversing of Arsenal’s fortunes.
5 ) Quick Start To The Game
The Gunners put their foot on the accelerator right from the whistle this time around, something that they could not manage to do last time around against The Saints in the League Cup.
It’s no secret that our opponents suffer when Arsene Wenger’s men pass the ball around with pace (remember Chelsea this season?) and this time around too Southampton could hardly keep up as the pace in passing was murderous to say the least. After some initial resistance, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and co, managed to breach the defense and setup goals for the frontmen.
4 ) Sustained Pressure
Arsenal have a tendency to slow down once they are in the lead, something that has cost them several clean sheets already this season. However, this time around, the story and attitude was different as the Londoners were in complete and utter control of the game throughout the two halves which ensured there was no resurgence of our opponents even when some first team regulars came on.
3 ) Southampton Without Their Big Players
Last time around in the League Cup, the Saints lineup boasted Virgil van Dijk, Fraser Forster, Ryan Bertrand in defence but this time around the back-line was manned by several inexperienced players who tried their best but came up short against an Arsenal side that was also playing largely without their first team regulars, only defender Shkodran Mustafi starting in the much changed lineup from the last Premier League win against Burnley.
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Southampton manager Claude Puel cut a sorry figure through the game but was unapologetic in the press afterwards. The gaffer revealed that his team were running thin because of several injuries in the side and it was simply not possible to play a full strength side due to the fixtures coming up. Fair point.
2 ) Wenger’s Serious Love Affair With The FA Cup Continues
Arsene Wenger has a ridiculous FA Cup record even after going almost a decade without silverware in his Arsenal career. The Frenchman has managed to win the coveted trophy six times already and this year too he doesn’t look in the mood to miss out as his team doled out a breathtaking performance in the fourth round of the tournament.
The same cannot be said about the Frenchman’s ambitions in the League Cup as the Londoners have never won the trophy under Wenger and have only managed one finals appearance since 2010. The side had much more intensity and looked a lot more up for it than in the EFL Cup which, lets face it, is well and truly the last priority of the season.
1 ) Clinical Finishing
Danny Welbeck converted two in quick succession while Theo Walcott added one to the tally in the first half to effectively kill off the game before the break. In the second half too, Southampton had no chance as Wenger sent on Alexis to run riot and two further goals were added as the team finished with five eventually.
This is something that Arsenal need to do more often and did not do in the League Cup where a total of 17 shots on goal and 5 on target could not yield goals and led to the team’s exit from the tournament yet again. Lucas Perez had just returned from a lengthy injury lay-off to start, while Aaron Ramsey was wasteful and cut a frustrated figure in that tie, this time around the Gunners front line were efficient and free-flowing. Something we’d like to see a lot more of from players who are fighting for their place in the starting XI.
Although many top teams have already made their exit from the FA Cup this season and Arsenal seem somewhat favorites to lift the crown, it is really the Premier League that they are chasing this time around. It is only that or the Champions League which will satisfy the fans who have been starved of success far too long now.