Eddie Nketiah capitalised on a terrible mistake by goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to give Arsenal an early lead and Southampton rarely launched much in the way of a fightback before Jack Stephens’ red card late on allowed Joe Willock to wrap up a rare three points.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
It was the type of wincing error that makes you unsure whether to laugh or cry, whether to offer a hand in sympathy or put the other foot through your TV. McCarthy was under no real pressure – not, at least, the type that should induce any real sense of panic. But as the back-pass ambled towards him, the Southampton goalkeeper hot-wired in the heat of the moment – although, admittedly, there was plenty of it on a suffocatingly hot afternoon at St Mary’s. With Jack Stephens beckoning to his left, McCarthy instead attempted to feed an alleyway around the onrushing Nketiah, succeeding only in playing it off the striker’s leg and back towards his own goal.
It was a cruel and unfortunate error, the type that afflicts any goalkeeper in their career, but after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a glorious chance early on, Southampton had needlessly relinquished their foothold, and never managed to recover it.
Arsenal transformed, victorious, but still not firing on all cylinders
What black and white world were we living in last September? When instead of fake crowd noise and anguished faces on a Sky Sports’ split-screen, Arsenal’s season was being played out against a cacophony of all too real boos and whistles. Certainly for supporters, that 2-2 draw at the Emirates – where Alexandre Lacazette scored a 96th-minute equaliser – must feel like a lifetime ago, with Unai Emery its traumatic spectre.
Just three players – Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Aubameyang – who started at the Emirates then featured in Mikel Arteta’s first-eleven today. Their display was not totally assured, but ultimately it was enough. Yet, despite all Mikel Arteta’s exhaustive efforts, the differences are still not as stark as the similarities. The system that proved so elusive under Emery has at least taken on a visible shape, even if it at times felt lopsided, with Bellerin and Nicolas Pepe often appearing disjointed in a first half where Ryan Bertrand barrelled forwards dangerously. And while Aubameyang made several incisive bursts, he was also stranded on the touchline for longer periods than their head coach will have liked. The seeds of transformation are certainly there, but if anything has been made glaringly obvious during this resumption, it’s that they will take far longer to nurture than many might have expected. That Arsenal led at the break for the first time since January is a testament to that.
If there was a single ray of positivity that could help alleviate the gloom of Arsenal’s back-to-back defeats, it was the encouraging words surrounding Bukayo Saka’s new contract. Showing his versatility once again, operating as a left-wing back, the 18-year-old was for large spells the brightest player on the pitch. That has so often been the case recently for Arsenal, it’s almost becoming a matter of cliche – a fact that’s exciting but equally damning of his counterparts. As capable going forwards – overlapping Aubameyang to allow the striker to cut inside – as covering for Tierney in defence, he has started the last five league games now and, despite still being a teenager, is almost indispensable rather than an up-and-coming accessory.
Before Jack Stephens brought down Aubameyang, getting himself sent off and thereby bringing the curtain down on the game after 85 minutes, Ralph Hasenhuttl cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines. Despite still having a chance, there was little impetus in the Saints’ attacks and little reason for the momentum to switch or cause Arsenal’s infamously brittle defence to shake. The removal of Yan Valery, after another unconvincing performance, studied the defence. But Shane Long’s introduction could do little to inspire a spark on a day where Southampton’s exciting attack only forced one real save of note from stand-in goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
The first thing Mikel Arteta aimed to ingrain when arriving at Arsenal wasn’t all those gems mined under Pep Guardiola, but discipline. An often questionable attitude and blasé culture at the club that has become increasingly hard to shift. So, despite it being a bold choice, there was little surprise when Matteo Guendouzi was left out of the head coach’s matchday squad entirely. The 21-year-old’s petulance became an ugly aside of Arsenal’s defeat by Brighton, with reports of his arrogance over wages leaking into the press and his attempted throttling of goalscorer Neal Maupay clear for all – except, apparently, the FA – to see.
Likewise, Mesut Ozil and Lacazette both found themselves on the bench once again. If their feet up by the seaside, parasols held aloft look in the stands is anything to go by, they won’t be featuring all that much in the future either.