Arsenal’s problems on show again as they rescue point against Southampton

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ends goal drought as Gabriel sent off at the Emirates

Arsenal defender Gabriel reacts as he realises he is about to receive a red card from referee Paul Tierney  for his foul on Southampton’s  Theo Walcott during the Premier League  match  at the Emirates stadium. Photograph:  Peter Cziborra/AFP via Getty Images

Arsenal defender Gabriel reacts as he realises he is about to receive a red card from referee Paul Tierney for his foul on Southampton’s Theo Walcott during the Premier League match at the Emirates stadium. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/AFP via Getty Images

 

Arsenal 1 Southampton 1

At times like these, as the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta gropes desperately for answers, he must be grateful for small mercies. At least there were no supporters present to witness this latest angst-ridden performance, which was scarred by another red card. At least his team scored for only the third time in nine Premier League games. At least they did not lose.

Make no mistake, Arsenal got away with one here. They were abysmal for the opening 30 minutes, when they trailed to a goal from their former winger Theo Walcott. And having battled back to level through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s third of the league season, they were left to cling on after Gabriel got himself sent off for a foolish second yellow card on 62 minutes. It was yet another act of Arsenal indiscipline.

Southampton played the more controlled football and they pushed for the winner although, almost implausibly, Arsenal almost stole one of their own at the very end when Rob Holding’s looping header from Bukayo Saka’s free-kick hit the woodwork. That would have been too much. Arsenal have now won just one of nine but at least this was something. It was high-flying Southampton who departed with the regrets.

Arteta has been accused of showing too much loyalty to underperforming senior players but he had to replace the suspended Héctor Bellerín and Granit Xhaka while he chose to drop Willian and Alexandre Lacazette. He changed his starting formation, too, going back to 3-4-3, with the returning Nicolas Pépé and Aubameyang operating as the wide attackers.

The assurance at the outset belonged to Southampton. Ralph Hasenhüttl has his system, his line-up is settled and the players know their roles. They were comfortable in possession, helped by the lack of a cohesive Arsenal press; they worked their one-touch stuff and they had to have felt the tentativeness of the home team.

Southampton’s goal summed up Arsenal’s fragility. All it took to prise them apart was a Jannik Vestergaard pass up from the back, a missed tackle and then another pass. Gabriel missed the tackle on Che Adams, having been distracted by Mohamed Elneny lunging in a moment earlier and, when the Southampton striker looked up, the ball was on for Walcott. He was in yards of space and finished with a cool dink.

The Emirates was flat because of the absence of fans but Arsenal’s lack of intensity for much of the first half was extraordinary. Then again, this is what rock bottom levels of confidence look like. Southampton strutted. Where were the challenges to knock them from their stride?

Arsenal pockmarked their play with errors, such as the one that Dani Ceballos took on 37 minutes to spin inside the area and throw himself to the ground in the vague proximity of Jan Bednarek. He was four yards out. Why not just shoot?

Arteta’s team did chisel out a few openings towards the end of the first half, with Pépé seeing one shot blocked by Vestergaard and scuffing another at Alex McCarthy. In between times, Saka beat Kyle Walker-Peters and his cross was deflected towards his own goal by Bednarek. McCarthy saved smartly. In a parallel universe, the half-time whistle was the prompt for boos.

Saka was the most likely player to make something happen for Arsenal and, to Arteta’s enormous relief, he did so in the 52nd minute, wriggling away from three challenges and finding Eddie Ntekiah, whose touch ushered in Aubameyang.

At last, Arsenal had a bit of momentum. So they immediately lurched towards the self-destruct button. Gabriel, who had struggled to suppress Adams, had just been booked for kicking the ball away. He then allowed Walcott to roll away from him on halfway and reacted by pulling him back. The lack of situational awareness was staggering.

Southampton went for the kill. As Arteta switched to 4-4-1 and clung on for the point, the substitute, Nathan Redmond, scooped against the crossbar and blasted another effort in the side-net. Against the run of play, Holding almost had the last word but Arsenal will take the point. – Guardian

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