Arsenal defensive mitigation or attacking impotence against Southampton?

I’m struggling to fall down on a certain type of opinion on yesterday’s defeat to Southampton. On the one hand we always have a terrible record there in the league. We’ve won once in six and yesterday was the second defeat in three years. They’re becoming that pesky bogey team that Arsenal always seem to have each season.

On the other hand they benefited from that dreaded ‘new manager bounce’ that always happens when you get a new guy in charge. The team responds, players perform that little bit better and run that little bit harder, hoping to find a way in to the new guys good books and certainly the intensity was more than Southampton have shown all season under Mark Hughes. Hasenhuttl was emblematic of that with his reactions to everything and I’m sure the players will have reacted to that too.

But again, despite that, they were second from bottom for a reason and that’s because they haven’t been very good defensively and offensively they’ve also been a bit pants. Before Arsenal rocked up – the Arsenal that can be very generous with opponents at times – Southampton had scored 13 goals all season.

We gifted them three. That works out as about 19% of the goals they’ve scored all season. ‘It’s the season and Arsenal were clearly in the mood for giving because all of the goals we conceded felt preventable. On the first Bellerin just didn’t seem to bothered about closing out the cross. On the second Guendouzi didn’t close down the ball in to Redmond, then Redmond had all the time in the world to find Ings, who was at best half-heartedly challenged by Lichtsteiner. Then for their winning goal a ball in behind saw Long clip it to the far post and quite what Bernd Leno was doing coming and flapping for the goal was beyond me.

Hear you go Saints, have three points on The Arsenal, you’re welcome.

It was a shoddy defensive display but again, here’s where it’s weird because half of me doesn’t know whether it’s fully fair to, because that was as patched up an Arsenal team as you’re going to get. And it got worse in the second half too as Bellerin is now out for a few weeks according to Emery. I think Lichtsteiner also picked up a knock and so with that in mind by the end of the game we had Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal as the only fit first teamers available.

No Rob Holding.

No Shkodran Mustafi.

No Skoratis.

No Mavropanos.

No Sead Kolasinac.

No Hector Bellerin.

No Stefan Lichtsteiner.

Let’s also point out that Monreal has only just come back from injury and that Koscielny had played 70 minutes of first team football since the beginning of the season. It all points towards a difficult afternoon and perhaps it was always going to be too much. I’d wager that if you took out that many players from any of the top six then those teams would still struggle to be as consistent as they’ve been. So perhaps there is some mitigation behind the mistakes at the back yesterday.

Unai was certainly in no mood to criticise the back line given the current plight but instead did ask questions of the attacking side of the team, which I thought was fair enough, because in that part of the pitch we’re alright.

Well, we’re ok in terms of fit players, but the performance left a lot to be desired of. There were a couple of good saves from McCarthy but apart from a lot of Arsenal possession we really struggled to provide any kind of big problems for Southampton and whilst we’re getting used to that in the first half, the second half should have seen us create more chances.

I thought all of our attacking players were poor yesterday. Auba couldn’t find those goal scoring positions and on the one or two occasions he did he was thwarted by a defenders leg or the ‘keeper. Lacazette never really created anything for himself. Mkhitaryan got two goals but was hardly a driving force and the two he scored marked another performance in which overall I was a little ‘meh’ about his play. Whilst Iwobi continues to baffle me in the fact his inclusion and remaining on the pitch is becoming one of life’s true mysteries. How can you have an attacking player with so much skill with the ball at his feet, except for when he’s in the final third? It’s so bad that it’s almost impressive how he can’t really shoot, doesn’t have that incisive pass in him, plus seems to have a bag of tricks until he gets in to the penalty box.

He deserves some props for his pass to Monreal for the Spaniard to cut back to Mkhi for the first goal, but other than that I saw little from him, again. We need a wide player who has that killer instinct in the final third. Iwobi isn’t that.

Nobody really performed to their ability though. There was an intensity about Southampton that Arsenal didn’t match and I’d be more accepting if we’d have played midweek, but most of those players had a week off because of the fact the Qarabag game was so meaningless. So fatigue simply cannot be used as an excuse. Unai’s Arsenal team have shown over the season so far that there is more running, work rate and intensity than many an Arsenal team we have seen, yet yesterday it just couldn’t be matched by a pretty average Southampton team if you asked me. If we’d have upped it by just 10% more it feels like we’d have won the game.

I sound like I’m angry and I’ll admit I am a bit, but then there’s part of me that is saying “come on man, they’ve just gone 22 without loss, so chill”. This is true and perhaps I do, but as Emery pointed out the problem we have is that every other team at the top is winning game after game and so despite a good run we’re three points off fourth with a host of injuries mounting up. We can’t afford to go away to relegation threatened teams and lose because non of the other teams at the top are doing that.

Which is the main concern this morning. Slip ups aren’t happening this season at the top. The gap between the top six and the rest are widening and that means that one slip just puts you further away from where you want to be.

There’s no panic stations yet, but Burnley at home and Brighton away means the margin for error is basically zero.

Get back on the horse Arsenal, we can’t afford you to fall off again so soon, though.

About the Author:

Gooner born in 1982 from Harlow, Essex, with a love for Arsenal that knows. I'm not an AKb, nor am I an 'In Arsene we Rust', but I like to think that I can tip-toe between the two, occasionally veering into both camps.

One Comment

  1. Tom 17th December 2018 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    I’m probably in a minority of one, but I think Iwobi’s doing alright. His pass for Monreal yesterday was excellent and his passes against Liverpool and Bournemouth were also very good. Perhaps this isn’t enough, but I’ll tell you now, I’d much rather have him on the pitch than that utter waste of space who came on for him.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.