Arsenal defeated Southampton 2-0 on Thursday thanks to a couple of goals from academy products, to get their first points of the restart.
In the sweltering heat at St. Mary’s Stadium, Arsenal came out much the faster of the two teams. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the bar in the first 10 minutes, with the goalkeeper getting what looked like a vital touch. Then Eddie Nketiah made it 1-0.
Nketiah’s goal wasn’t the result of an intricate passing play, but simply his willingness to keep closing players down despite the conditions. Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy hesitated for a moment too long before playing a pass straight into Nketiah’s leg, and the striker tapped it into an empty net.
Arsenal remained on top for much of the first half, but Southampton came back into the game after the break. They certainly had plenty of shots, albeit only a few that actually tested the goalkeeper.
Mikel Arteta’s side hung in there, before another instance of closing down – this time from Aubameyang – forced another defensive error. This time Jack Stephens dived in and took a red card.
Joe Willock scored from the second rebound following the resulting free-kick, sealing the result for Arsenal. Let’s have a look at our player ratings for the match.
- Emi Martinez 8.5 – A very strong performance from Martinez overall, arguably crucial to Arsenal’s victory. He made three good saves, reacting quickly to collect one dangerous rebound. He also helped create one of the chances of the match, putting Aubameyang in on goal.
- Hector Bellerin 6 – Bellerin took a lot of stick for his performance on social media, but he only partly earned it. In possession, he was sometimes woeful, with only a 61% pass accuracy. But he stuck to his defensive task very well and deserves credit for that.
- Shkodran Mustafi 7.5 – Given Mustafi and Holding are the two defenders Arsenal fans spend the most of their time worrying about, this was a solid display from the pair. Mustafi won four of his five aerials and both of his attempted tackles on the day.
- Rob Holding 8 – Holding won everything he contested in the air, and made a match-high eight clearances, more than the rest of the defence combined. He earned the official Man-of-the-Match award for his performance. It was certainly an encouraging display after some tough times for him recently.
- Kieran Tierney 7.5 – Often slotting into a back-three with Mustafi and Holding, Tierney did excellently. One early long ball should’ve resulted in an assist for Aubameyang, and he stuck to his defensive duties well. Sadly, he had to come off early with cramp.
- Dani Ceballos 6 – Just didn’t look as sharp as he needed to be in midfield. He rarely conceded possession sloppily, but he slowed down a number of counter-attacks and took the sting out of them. May lose his spot to Maitland-Niles if he doesn’t improve.
- Granit Xhaka 8 – The stats don’t tell the whole story in this case. 84% pass accuracy is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s where those passes went that was so impressive. Xhaka played forward, made smart decisions in possession and was a big part of Arsenal’s transition to attack. A strong injury comeback.
- Bukayo Saka 7.5 – Unlucky to see one potential assist ruled out as he just strayed offside, but Saka made two more good chances as he continued his positive form in midfield. The one criticism is he lost the ball a little too easily once or twice. But he did so taking the risks you want him taking.
- Nicolas Pepe 6.5 – Had his moments, particularly setting up a great chance for Nketiah. But 18 touches in 64 minutes suggests he just wasn’t in the game enough. That was certainly partly down to Bellerin’s troubles in possession, and Pepe did well enough on the rare occasions he did get involved.
- Eddie Nketiah 8 – Nketiah didn’t stop working and pressing until he came off in the 79th minute. He forced a few mistakes, most notably for his goal. He also made good decisions in possession. One scuffed finish after Pepe’s pass was the only blemish.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 8 – Worked really hard down the left, and was very unlucky to leave the pitch without a goal or assist. His pace to draw the red card was electrifying, and only the goalkeeper’s fingertips denied him a goal.
- Joe Willock 8 – Pounced on his one chance like an in-form centre-forward, anticipating the rebound and slotting it away. Completed all but one of his 12 passes and should’ve had a free-kick after showing good energy on the flanks.
- Sead Kolasinac 7 – Came on ready to physically fight for every ball, making a couple of interceptions and winning a free-kick but also giving away a foul.
- Alexandre Lacazette 7.5 – Still no away goal, but he got himself in some great positions. His well-struck rebound after the free-kick led to Arsenal’s second goal, and he made a couple of great runs through the middle his teammates didn’t find. He really needs to use the competition from Nketiah to push on.
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles 7 – Solid cameo in his 10 minutes on the pitch in midfield, completing eight of 10 passes, winning two of three duels and making a couple of tackles and an interception.