Shane Long gets under Wenger’s skin with display of drive and dash

Arsenal unlikely to have midfielder Jack Wilshere back until at least February

Shane Long scores the fourth goal for Southampton against Arsenal. Photograph: Alan Walter/Reuters

Shane Long scores the fourth goal for Southampton against Arsenal. Photograph: Alan Walter/Reuters

 

Southampton 4 Arsenal 0

Arsène Wenger had complained bitterly about the referee, Jon Moss. He had sniped at Southampton for being overly physical. And he had given short shrift to questions about new signings. Then the Arsenal manager revealed bad news on the injury front.

Jack Wilshere would not be back from the fractured fibula that has destroyed his season until February, at the earliest. There has long been the hope the midfielder would return in January but he is still not back in full training and his progress has been slow.

“He will not be back before February, that’s for sure,” Wenger said. “It’s going slowly. Once he goes outside to train and once he is back again into sharp, hard work, physically, you count five or six weeks. At the moment, he is not there yet.”

It was one of those days for Arsenal, a missed opportunity against opponents in poor form; the kind of day supporters had hoped was behind them but, in their hearts, knew was not. Wenger hunted for scapegoats and his main one was Moss. Wenger insisted none of Southampton’s first three goals should have stood: because of an offside in the buildup to Cuco Martina’s stunning opener; a foul by Shane Long on Laurent Koscielny before the second; and an erroneously awarded corner on the third.

Relentlessly

He was also unhappy with Long. “What has he done from the first to the last?” Wenger asked, to which the answer should have been: run the channels relentlessly, stretch Arsenal and bully Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Wenger, though, meant to highlight what he perceived as Long’s overstepping of various marks.

Wenger had a point about Long’s off-the-ball trip on Koscielny but his gripes about the first and third goals were more spurious, in that they did not excuse the defending from his team. Mertesacker failed to get distance on his clearing header, although there was no legislating for Martina’s 30-yard, outside-of-the-boot blockbuster and the marking on the corner for Jose Fonte’s goal was sloppy.

The reality was that Arsenal got what they deserved from an insipid performance, against a Southampton team that were inspired. With Wenger missing seven players through injury, he had named the same side for the fourth time in 17 days. Was it one game too far? The problem, though, is that they have another one at home to Bournemouth today and Wenger’s options for freshening things up are not extensive.

Overloaded

“A lot of the players have not been overloaded,” Wenger said. “If you look at the number of games that Flamini, Ramsey and Campbell have played since the start of the season – even Giroud, Walcott, as well. All these players are not overloaded.”

Wenger is close to a permanent deal for the Basel and Egypt midfielder Mohamed Elneny – the 23-year-old is expected to sign next month – but the manager will generally look for internal solutions, rather like Southampton did here to such spectacular effect. Martina and Long stepped in after Cedric Soares and Graziano Pellè had been injured in training, and they were part of a radically hardier collective performance.

Southampton tails are back up for the trip to West Ham United today. “There was more confidence and being positive on the pitch,” said Long. “The gaffer made it a bit more fun in training. He had the lads joking and you could see the results.”

Ronald Koeman, though, was not laughing at the lack of preparation time before West Ham United. “It’s impossible to be recovered 100 per cent,” he said. “The players are at risk of serious injury. I like Boxing Day football, but to play again in 43 hours, it’s not normal.” Guardian Service

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