Resurgent Southampton comfortably see off Arsenal
Goals from Mane and Tadic help Koeman’s Saints pull clear in fourth position
Sadio Mane is mobbed by his Southampton team mates after giving the Saints the lead against Arsenal at St Mary’s (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Southampton 2 Arsenal 0
Wojciech Szczesny reached into the back of the net for his bottle and he took a long glug. The only pity for the Arsenal goalkeeper was that there was nothing stronger in it than water. Szczesny had just erred for the second time to present Dusan Tadic with the second Southampton goal and his grab for the bottle felt like an instinctive defence mechanism. Perhaps, he wanted something to do with his hands.
It was his feet that had been the problem on this occasion. Following Steven Davis’ wonderful control and cross from the right, Mathieu Debuchy had jabbed the ball back at Szczesny and he seemed to panic that it represented a back-pass. So he swiped at the ball with his boot and only succeeding in finding Tadic, who squeezed home his shot to seal a victory that allowed Southampton to strengthen their grip on fourth place in the Premier League table.
They had led through Sadio Mané after Szczesny’s first bad decision of the afternoon – a reckless bolt from his line – and they were value for the points, having played the slicker football and created plenty of good chances. Graziano Pellè was twice denied by the post. The home team’s recent five-game losing streak felt like a distant memory.
Arsenal had their chances, principally through Santi Cazorla at 0-0 and the relentless Alexis Sánchez at 1-0 but they did not do enough to merit anything. And no team can make the mistakes that they did at the back and emerge unscathed.
A grim day for Arsene Wenger was compounded when a fan, assumed to be an angry Arsenal supporter, ran on to the pitch the Arsenal boss when his side were 2-0 down.
Southampton had advertised the opening goal and when it came, there was joy for them about the execution but hand-wringing from Arsenal. Mané’s finish was a beauty. He muscled in behind Laurent Koscielny following James Ward-Prowse’s ball over the top and, after Szczesny had dashed from his line and then retreated, Mané lofted a curling left-footed chip from a tight angle over the goalkeeper’s head. Per Mertesacker stretched out a long limb but he could not divert the ball clear from in front of the line.
Arsène Wenger shook his head in the dugout and wore a thunderous expression. Koscielny ought to have done better but it had been a shock to see Szczesny so far from his line. It was an ugly break-down and things might have got worse for Arsenal before the interval. Mané found the space to cut back from the right and Ward-Prowse looked odds-on to score. Szczesny, diving the other way, saved with his trailing leg. Mané was forced off with an injury moments later.
Southampton had made inroads up the left flank at the outset, where Ryan Bertrand sought to overlap and the home team should have been in front much sooner. Tadic hooked over a cross from the flank and Pellè shook his marker to rise and plant a firm header towards the bottom corner. His sights were fractionally awry and the ball kissed the outside of the post. Pellè also met a centre from Bertrand to force Szczesny into a scruffy save, with the goalkeeper kicking the rebound away from the feet of Mané.
Sánchez was typically sharp and inventive. He worked Fraser Forster from distance in the early going while he also absorbed some heavy challenges – most notably from Florin Gardos and the excellent Victor Wanyama. Sánchez had started as the lead striker, with Olivier Giroud suspended, Yaya Sanogo injured and Danny Welbeck having failed a fitness test on his thigh.
Arsenal’s injury crisis feels as though it is close to easing; many players are on the brink of comebacks. But Wenger still missed 11 players here. With Mathieu Flamini a late withdrawal with groin trouble, Calum Chambers was pressed into emergency service in defensive midfield. The former Saint was booed by the home crowd until his substitution on the hour.
Arsenal’s big first-half chance came on 21 minutes, when Tomas Rosicky cut the ball back smartly for the on-rushing Cazorla. He had to score and, given his recent form, he looked a smart bet to do so. But his first-time shot was directed straight at Forster, who beat clear. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also went close following Cazorla’s pull-back.
Sánchez might have put a different complexion on the game in the 55th minute when he fastened onto Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross, jinked inside and shot – Forster made an excellent low save – and, moments later, Southampton were further in front through Tadic.
The home team threatened to inflate the scoreline. Tadic twirled majestically and curled just wide; Pellè hit the near post from Bertrand’s cross, with Ward-Prowse lifting the follow-up high and Debuchy cleared off the line from the Italian, after Tadic had read Koscielny’s poor back-pass and got around Szczesny.
There was also controversy on 68 minutes. Sánchez sprinted clear and he was cynically halted by Florin Gardos’s foul on the edge of the area. The referee, Stuart Attwell, reached for yellow rather than red, much to Wenger’s frustration. Sánchez curled the free-kick narrowly over the crossbar. It was not Arsenal’s day.