At the start of the season, Arsenal were the laughing stock of the Premier League. They lost on the opening day to Brentford 2-0, and it didn’t get any better after that, with two more back-to-back losses against Chelsea and Manchester City.
Joint bottom of the Premier League, matchday four against Norwich was labelled as a six-pointer by neutrals as they mocked the Gunners for their poor start. However, that game against Norwich started a resurgence under Mikel Arteta.
Before other teams knew it, they were breathing down the neck of the top four. However, Liverpool, in a dominant display at Anfield, showed Mikel Arteta just how far his side were off competing at the top end of the table. They did bounce back though with a 2-0 win over Newcastle, before back-to-back defeats in an unlucky game against Manchester United that ended 3-2, and one full of contentious decisions in which Rafael Benitez’s Everton side came from behind to win 2-1.
So it was important for Arsenal to pick themselves off and get back to winning ways against Southampton this weekend. But before the game even kicked off, there was controversy in the team selection ahead of the tie, with the exclusion of a key player.
Whose been a naughty boy?
Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left out of the starting lineup in the week previous against Everton, but he was left out entirely for the tie against Southampton. If he had been out of the team and the excuse had been that he’d picked up a knock in training, fans would’ve possibly understood. However, during a pre-match interview with a broadcaster, Arteta stated that he had left the striker from the matchday squad due to a “disciplinary breach”.
This is not the first time that Aubameyang has been brought up on not complying with club rules, and Arteta believes he’s been very precise with his players about the standards that he expects: “I think we have been very consistent that we have certain non-negotiables in the team that we have set ourselves as a club”.
It’s not quite known exactly what these breaches are, but it is understood that Aubameyang didn’t turn up to their Friday training session. And pundits have been out in force to explain their disappointment in the player, with ex-spurs boss Tim Sherwood stating in an interview with Sky Sports that he thinks “the manager is under huge pressure, but what he can’t suffer is players throwing the toys out the pram and thinking because I’m sitting on the bench at Everton I can do whatever I want and not curb with the rest of the players”.
With rumours that Aubameyang is looking for a move away, this could be the final straw that forces Arsenal to sell. But as an aging striker with a large wage bill, who is going to take a risk on a player like this, especially when he is repeatedly breaching disciplinary procedures? Well, that’s a discussion for another day, although bookmakers are suggesting that a move to Barcelona is likely with odds of 11/8. So if you’re thinking of getting in on the action, check out places like BetOnline. Now onto the game.
Gunners flying three-ly
With Aubameyang’s omission from the side, you’d forgive the players for being somewhat distracted, and they may well have had their minds elsewhere, as they made a slow start to the game. However, after Southampton dominated for the first 15 or so minutes, leading Arsenal to pick up two yellow cards.
However, a nice cut back by Bukayo Saka after making a run down the wing landed in the path of Alexandre Lacazette, who rifled a shot into the top of the net, leaving the goalkeeper helpless. It was just like he had rolled back the years. And it wouldn’t be long before they really stamped their authority on the game, as they doubled their lead just six minutes later.
Martin Odegaard made his way into the box, finding enough space to get his head on the end of a Kieran Tierney cross. He managed to angle his header perfectly into the top left corner, leaving the keeper with no chance of stopping it.
Arsenal then continued to dominate the first half, and any chance of a Southampton comeback took a hit when Adam Armstrong, who’d created a couple of chances early on, picked up a knock. He was checked over by a physio initially, but Ralph Hasenhuttl decided he could no longer continue and quickly subbed him off for Mohamed Elyounoussi just before the end of the first half.
Arsenal kicked off the second half the same way they dominated the first. They controlled possession, but not before giving away the ball to Southampton who had a rare attack that was worked into the box. Following a challenge in an effort to defend the ball, Southampton players were calling for a penalty, but the ref made the right call and did not give it.
Arsenal thought they then had a third immediately after the penalty drama. However VAR deemed that goal shouldn’t stand and Arsenal, who were still in control still only had their two goal lead. But within a matter of minutes, Arsenal had won a corner that was whipped in by Gabriel Martinelli, and Gabriel managed to get his head onto it and steer it towards goal. This time there was no VAR to save Southampton from their blushes.
There was no letting up either, as immediately after their third, Martinelli went looking to add a fourth. Shooting from the edge of the box and rattling the right hand post.
Southampton did start to find their way into the game then, with a couple of half chances at goal, and a barrage of corners being put into the box by James Ward-Prowse. But there was little they could do against a solid Arsenal backline, who then managed the remaining minutes to shut the game out with a clean sheet.
Who is next?
Up next for the Gunners is a London derby, as they host West Ham at the Emirates in a late kick-off mid week. The Hammers are flying high this season, having managed to beat both Liverpool and Chelsea in the league, qualifying top of the group in the Europa League, and knocking both Manchester sides out of the Carabao Cup. It won’t be an easy tie by any means, but if we see the same Arsenal show up then that we saw today, Arteta’s men should stand a good chance in what will likely be a tightly fought contest.