Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Arsenal Draw A Blank Against Southampton

Arsenal have been on a bad run of results in the Premier League and they faced Southampton last night knowing three points were a necessity. They were three points behind the leaders Leicester and level on points with City while Spurs were breathing down their necks just two points back. They also owed Southampton a defeat after losing 4-0 away to them over the festive period.

Arsene Wenger made seven changes from the team which beat Burnley in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday. Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal all came in at the back with Aaron Ramsey, Mathueu Flamini, Mesut Ozil and Joel Campbell coming in higher up the pitch. The surprises were probably the omissions of Francis Coquelin and Per Mertesacker and I can only assume Coquelin is still a little short on match fitness while Gabriel Paulista might just be winning his place in the team from Mertesacker.

It was the first time Ozil and Alexis Sanchez had played together in over two months and I thought their class would be the difference between the teams. Alexis has been badly missed while he was out injured, but the team managed to stay competitive and keep in the title fight. I had hoped his return would be the catilyst the team needed to kick on for the rest of the season.

All too often in recent games Arsenal have started slowly and have depended on their second half performance to try to get a result. I witnessed that first hand in the FA Cup third round game against Sunderland and they did more or less the same against Burnkey last Saturday. It hasn't worked in the league though with slow starts against Liverpool and Chelsea costing points and very little happening in the draw with Stoke. 

There were good chances for Arsenal in that first half though and Ozil probably should have put the best of them away. Southampton had their moments too in a close first half and Arsenal knew they had to pick up the pace after the break. 

They did pick up the pace and continued to make good chances after the break, but a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Fraser Forster combined to keep the game scoreless. Southampton manager Ronald Koeman admitted that it was a lucky point for his team after the game, but that's of little consolation to Arsenal.

The result was all the worse for Arsenal when the rest of the teams in the top six all won. They're now five points behind Leicester and two behind City while Spurs also overtook them on goal difference. It's far from over for Arsenal at this stage, but they have to get themselves out of this rut or the league will disappear into the horizon very quickly.

Maybe the most alarming statistic from the game was that it was the first time Arsenal had failed to score for three games in a row in seven years. Their lack of goals at home in particular is very worrying and it's something which has to be remidied very quickly. Despite getting his fair share of goals this season I'm still not convinced Olivier Giroud is the top class striker they need if they're going to compete at the very top. The problem is there is no real competition for Giroud and he has to play in almost every game. I think the failure to sign a striker in the summer has come back to haunt the team at a time when a new face up front could be what the team needs to kickstart the remainder of the season. 

Ozil certainly did his part as he created chance after chance for teammates, but none of them were put away. There's still 14 league games to go, but they can't allow the teams above them to steal too much of a march on them. There are some crucial games coming up for Arsenal and they need to get their shooting boots on very quickly.

With Leicester going to City this weekend there's a chance for Arsenal to close that gap and Spurs travel to City the following week while Arsenal play Leicester. Arsenal need to take six points from the game against Bournemouth on Sunday and that game against Leicester to get right in among the thick of it.

It's hard to see too many positives from last night's draw, but at least they picked up one point. There was a stage in the game where I thought it was set up for Southampton to nick a 1-0 win with a sucker punch as Arsenal pushed forward looking for a winner. Maybe that might have happened in previous seasons and that point could be fondly remembered if the league finishes up as close as it looks like it will at the moment.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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