It's no feast day for Arsenal as Saints just fail to find winning formula
Southampton 1 Arsenal 1:Just when you think it safe to talk up Arsenal they confound you. Arsene Wenger’s team arrived on the south coast buoyed by their best spell of the season, with four straight Premier League wins and goals aplenty, and it felt as though this was a fixture to press their top-four credentials. Relegation-threatened opponents such as Southampton should be beaten.
Instead Arsenal laboured, a legacy, perhaps, of the congested festive programme but equally a reflection of their erratic nature. It has become impossible to predict what will come from this group and they were second best to a Southampton team that created the better chances. Arsenal were indebted to Wojciech Szczesny, who made three decent stops.
The frustration for Arsenal was that Artur Boruc in the opposite goal had looked wobbly, yet they failed to stretch him. Only once, in the 70th minute, did they force him into a save and Theo Walcott’s shot was directed straight at him. Arsenal put six past Southampton in September but further conviction here never looked likely.
The game had started briskly but the early attacking intent from both teams gave way to meandering fare. Santi Cazorla flickered for Arsenal but the opening exchanges were most notable for the anxiety of Boruc, who had been called in for his first start in more than two months.
Southampton have struggled for consistency in goal and the Pole flapped horribly at two crosses and sliced one attempted clearance before 10 minutes were on the clock; his kicking was consistently dicey.
There has been an edginess about the defending of both sides this season and the frailties were plain on the goals. There were accusing stares from those in Arsenal colours after the sequence of errors that prefaced Gaston Ramirez’s third goal of his debut season at Southampton.
Lukas Podolski tried to play a square pass inside his defensive third and got it wrong, Morgan Schneiderlin seizing on the looseness and striking at Arsenal’s exposed centre. He looked to play in Rickie Lambert but Bacary Sagna read the intention, only to hit his attempted clearance at Jason Puncheon, who jabbed the ball back to Ramirez. His shot was low and true as it flashed past Szczesny.
Southampton, though, felt their joy turn to a sinking feeling. They have routinely thrown away advantages this season and the equaliser they conceded was cloaked in naivety and black comedy. Mikel Arteta muscled in front of Puncheon, felt the Southampton winger nibble at him and went down. If the free-kick concession was soft, then the goal truly hurt. Walcott’s delivery was dangerous but Guly do Prado lost his bearings and composure when diverting the ball into his own net with an outstretched leg. It was Walcott’s fourth assist in as many games.
Southampton thought they might have had a penalty in the seventh minute when Maya Yoshida felt Thomas Vermaelen aim a clumsy kick at him. However, he did not go down, which probably spared the referee from making a decision.
All eyes had been on Walcott, who kept his place as Arsenal’s lead striker on his first return to Southampton, the club he left for north London in 2006. But it was not a match for him to remember and the same could be said of another returning Saint, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Podolski.
Southampton appeared the more likely scorers in the second half. Lambert slipped at the crucial moment, after Szczesny’s parry from Schneiderlin’s cross, Puncheon found the side-netting following build-up work from Lambert and Steven Davis, and Ramirez had the ball in the net only to be pulled up for a push. Towards the end Puncheon shot at Szczesny, whose handling was true.
Arsenal had little to shout about other than the substitute Gervinho’s low shot that flashed wide and a header from another substitute, Olivier Giroud. The visitors’ frustration was reflected at the end when Arteta put Kieran Gibbs through only for the fullback to misdirect his low cross.