The end, when it came, should not really have been a surprise. Granted, Arsenal could have won this match – it was one that could have gone either way. But ultimately, they were playing a back three with two players out of position and the other a long way from match sharp. The suspension to Sokratis was ill-timed, given that Holding, Mustafi and Mavropanos were all on the treatment table. To add to further injury to the insult, it now looks like Hector Bellerin will be joining them in the sick bay. You want more? Nacho Monreal playing his first game back after a long enough absence of his own. It was not a recipe for resilience, especially against a team fired up by a new manager who has injected some hunger. What a shame Mark Hughes could not have stuck around another few weeks.
Arsenal have been letting too many crosses in all season. It’s an area that needs attention but is partly a consequence of the way the team play, with the full backs, or wing backs more recently responsible for giving the side width. Bellerin and Monreal tend not to commit when a cross is about to come in, for fear of being beaten. So they stand off and allow enough space for the cross to be made, on occasion blocking it, but more often than not watching it sail past them.
Laurent Koscielny tried valiantly yesterday, but he looked what he is. A 33-year-old inevitably off the pace due to his long absence through injury. There are question marks over all of the central defenders at the club. We are not talking Adams, Bould and Keown here. It's probably the area that, if the club do have any funds, they will address in the January. Long term, it looks unlikely that Callum Chambers is in consideration, so new faces need to be found, Rob Holding is one who can play a part, but that isn’t going to be this season. Mustafi has youth on his side, but there are a lot of doubts about his decision making. Sokratis might be able to do a job for another season, but age is not on his side.
Tactically, there may need to be a re-think too, given wholesale changes are unlikely. That’s one for Unai Emery. He started against Southampton with Guendouzi and Torreira in the centre and Granit Xhaka as the left sided central defender. Xhaka has filled in at left back before, but I am uncertain anyone is convinced by his abilities to prevent the opposition. This might have been a game to see whether of not Zech Medley is the real deal. Sure, experience counts for something, but it has to be won somewhere. Mavropanos came in from nowhere last season and looked the part. With hindsight, it looks less of a risk that playing Xhaka there. Perhaps even a back three of Lichtsteiner, Elneny and Koscielny might have provided a little more resistance. It’s a difficult one for the manager, with four centre backs unavailable, so I’m not going to be too critical.
Going forward, Alex Iwobi was generally disappointing. He did provide the pass from which Nacho Monreal set up Mkhitaryan for the equaliser that made it 1-1. However, overall, the early promise he showed under Emery seems to be dissipating. He seems best used as an impact sub, and perhaps it is time to consider starting Aaron Ramsey ahead of him. Mkhitaryan scored both of Arsenal’s goals.
Southampton went in at the interval 2-1 up and Lacazette was introduced at the restart, replacing the injured Hector Bellerin as Arsenal switched to a back four with Koscielny and Xhaka as the two centre backs. It’s a wonder they only conceded one in that 45 minutes. A second equaliser raised the spirits of the travelling fans on a cold miserable day, and rain started to fall. It was a game of spells – with each team dominating the other for periods. In the end the killer blow came in the final minutes. Mesut Ozil was on the pitch by this time for Iwobi, although his contribution was insignificant. Aubameyang and Lacazette did work hard but did not get the rub of the green.
The run was going to end sometime, and now we find out whether the team can recover their mojo more quickly than they did under the previous manager. Then, it took time to get going again, even when the side was packed with some of the best players in the club’s history. It was as if, psychologically, defeat knocked them completely out of their stride. So much for mental strength. We wait to see if anything has changed under Unai Emery. Spurs on Wednesday night is a big match for the fans, but if it is largely a different set of players – which is possible – it is far less important for the season than the next two Premier League matches against Burnley and Brighton. Arsenal need to win those before heading to Anfield.
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