Olivier Giroud saves Arsenal against Southampton
French striker’s 88th minute header spares Gunners’ blushes after diabolical opening
Olivier Giroud’s late header snatched a point for Arsenal at St Mary’s. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty
Southampton 1 Arsenal 1
When Arsène Wenger made his third and final substitution, with Arsenal trailing and struggling for penetration at what has been a bogey ground for them, the travelling supporters groaned. Alexandre Lacazette was the player to make way. The summer signing had looked dangerous, at times and, surely, the team needed their leading scorer on the field?
It proved to be a game-saving masterstroke. Not for the first time, the striker that keeps Lacazette out of the France national team made an impression from the bench. Olivier Giroud has not started a Premier League game this season but he now has four goals in the competition – and seven overall for the club.
It was his late header, glanced home from Alexis Sánchez’s cross, that got Arsenal their point and wrestling some of the attention away from another diabolical opening to a match.
Wenger had wanted to bounce back from the Manchester United defeat last weekend and, in order to do so, he had spelled out the importance of a fast and focused start. The message did not get through.
Arsenal were a shambles in the early running and they trailed to Charlie Austin’s excellent finish. The striker has found a rich vein of form. He now has four goals in three league starts and he and Southampton might have had more.
But Giroud would deny Mauricio Pellegrino the statement victory he craved and if it did not exactly get Arsenal’s campaign for a top four finish back in track, it was infinitely preferably to the defeat at which they were staring.
Southampton blitzed Arsenal at the outset and it was no exaggeration to say that Austin might have had a hat-trick inside the opening eight minutes.
Pellegrino caught Wenger cold with his approach, which saw Southampton use a back four when they had the ball and switch to a wing-backs system when they had to defend. James Ward-Prowse made the extra man at the back on the right.
Dusan Tadic found space in between the lines early on and it was the attacking midfielder that ushered in Austin for the breakthrough. Per Mertesacker, who had come into the Arsenal back three for the injured Shkodran Mustafi, was guilty of a loose pass and Austin sent it forward first-time for Tadic. He had worked himself goal-side of Mertesacker and, when Austin continued his run, Tadic found him. Austin took a touch to set himself before finishing with the outside of his right boot.
Rattled the upright
Austin had scored goals against Arsenal during his time at Queens Park Rangers and he was in the mood here. Tadic played him through in the fifth minute but, from a slight angle, he watched Petr Cech plunge to his right to make a vital save while Austin rattled the upright shortly afterwards from Nathan Redmond’s cross only to be pulled back for offside. Moments earlier, after Héctor Bellerín had given the ball away, Austin was fractionally offside as he burst through.
Arsenal were all over the place but they stabilised. Lacazette came into the game as the first-half wore on and he was at the heart of a lightning counter-attack that followed an overhit Southampton corner. Bellerín made the final pass for him but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg stretched to make the saving challenge and prevent what would have been an ugly inquest.
Cech had to be alert to punch clear a Ward-Prowse free-kick that swirled on the breeze but Arsenal might have equalised on 33 minutes when Mesut Özil found Sánchez and he cut back for Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder’s right-footed first-time connection was sweet and the ball flew towards the near corner. Fraser Forster got down sharply to make a fine save. Lacazette also shot high before the interval from Bellerín’s cut-back.
The feeling nagged that Southampton could live to regret their failure to capitalise more fully on their early purple patch, although they threatened on the counter-attack in the second-half. Oriol Romeu hit the crossbar with a thunderous 25 yarder while Tadic played in Ryan Bertrand on 66 minutes after more terrible Arsenal defending – this time by Laurent Koscielny – but he could not finish when confronted by Cech.
Wenger switched to 4-2-3-1 when he changed Mertesacker for Danny Welbeck while he gave the travelling fans the substitution they had been chanting for when he introduced Jack Wilshere. Then came Giroud for Lacazette – to very little fanfare.
Wenger’s team tried to make the game but they struggled to break down Southampton’s defensive structure. Sánchez worked Forster with an 85th minute free-kick but that was pretty much it until Giroud fashioned the sting in the tail.