Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Arsenal Draw With Southampton As Flamini Sees Red

Arsenal went into a very tricky game with Southampton on top of the Premier League and knowing a win would put them four points ahead of City and five ahead of Chelsea with both of them playing tonight. Southampton have played some very good football this season and have proved to be a handful against any team they have played. If Arsenal were to pile the pressure on City and Chelsea they were going to have to be at their very best.

With Jack Wilshere out with an injury it was hoped Aaron Ramsey would come back into the team after missing a month through injury himself. Unfortunately it looks like Ramsey has picked up another injury and wasn't in the squad with rumours of him missing another four to six weeks. There was no Tomas Rosicky either which meant Arsene Wenger chose Mikael Arteta and Mathieu Flamini to play in central midfield. They are both considered to be defensive or holding midfielders and it meant there was little or no drive in the Arsenal team in the first half in particular.

Otherwise the team was more or less as expected with Serge Gnabry keeping his place on the left of the attacking trio and Lukas Podolski again missing out. While the starting 11 didn't exactly excite me I still thought it was more than good enough to take all three points. Southampton thought otherwise though and they took the game to Arsenal from the very start.

I can't remember seeing Arsenal play so poorly this season as they were in that first half and it was no surprise when Southampton scored mid way through it. Jose Fonte was on hand to score at the far post from a Luke Shaw cross, but Nacho Monreal could have done more to prevent it. I expected to see a reaction from Arsenal, but they didn't manage their first attempt on goal until the final moments of the half when Artur Boric saved well from Laurent Koscielny after Per Mertesacker had flicked on a corner.

Southampton deserved their first half lead and Arsenal were lucky there was only one goal between the teams. They needed to do an awful lot better in the second half and they came out of the blocks very quickly to put Southampton on the back foot. Within seven minutes of the restart Arsenal had managed to overturn the deficit and put themselves 2-1 up.

The first was a very good backheel from Olivier Giroud from a Bacary Sagna cross. Sagna did very well to win the ball after a Monreal cross had gone across the goal with no one on the end of it. It was just the boost Arsenal needed and only a few minutes later Santi Cazorla finished from the edge of the box from a Mesut Ozil pass which was probably meant for Giroud.

My hopes were up at that stage and I thought Arsenal would go on and win the game. Unfortunately they could only hold on to the lead for two minutes as Adam Lallana finished from close range from a Jay Rodriguez pass after Rodriguez had got the better of Sagna. By this stage it was end to end stuff and either team could have won, but gradually Southampton got on top again.

When Flamini got a straight red for a two footed lunge it was all hands to the pump for Arsenal. I have no arguement with the red card as he could have broken someone up very badly, but I just wish the rules were dealt with in the same way by every referee. Over the festive period both City and Chelsea should have had straight red cards for very bad tackles against Arsenal, but neither referee chose to deal with the matter correctly.

Arsenal held out thanks to some good defending from Mertesacker and Koscielny in particular and Wojciech Szczesny excelling in goal yet again. Monreal defended better in the second half too, but his slackness in the first half gave Southampton two gilt edged chances which they thankfully missed. With Kieran Gibbs back to full fitness I wouldn't be surprised to see a change at left back against Palace on Sunday.

While Arsenal struggled in the first half in particular and in parts of the second half I was hugely impressed with the performance from Ozil in that second half. He was desperately unlucky when a great run from the halfway line ended with his shot being deflected against the bar rather than putting Arsenal 3-2 up. There were other chances too with Monreal missing the best of them when he flashed a shot well wide from a good position.

Too many Arsenal players didn't show up last night and they were very lucky to get a point off a Southampton team who probably deserved to win. Both Chelsea and City could overtake them tonight with wins but Arsenal are still right up there with 15 games to go. They will have to be a lot more focused at home to Palace on Sunday and cannot afford to take the game for granted.

Flamini will miss that game due to suspension and he will miss the league games away to Liverpool and at home to United too. His qualities might have been very useful in those games, but Arsenal will have to do without them. 

The boss spoke afterwards about trying to bring a new player (or players) in before Friday's deadline. It's never easy to add to the squad in January, but the boost a top class performer would bring could be just the impetus this team needs as it heads to the crucial stage of the season. 

A couple of points dropped last night wasn't the end of the world, but it makes the task of winning the league that bit harder. Southampton have already drawn at home to City and won away to Liverpool and they are nobody's mugs when it comes to playing football. The team need to regroup, beat Palace and then head into 11 days which could determine the rest of their season.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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