Quite why it took a series of setbacks to provoke Arsenal into action is anyone’s guess but provoked they were as they outscored an irritating Southampton side to take all three points at the Emirates on Sunday.
After a truly woeful opening 20 minutes or so, Arsenal again found themselves behind as Saints’ greater industry and desire allowed them to sneak ahead via Shane Long’s close-range finish.
Rather than having to show real quality to cut a swathe through us, however, the visitors were gifted their goal as so many sides have been this season. On this occasion it was Shkodran Mustafi taking the lion’s share of the blame for some abject stuff just yards from his own goal. He was rightly bollocked by Petr Cech.
As was correctly observed by a fan on Twitter, the German is either stupendous or comically bad, there doesn’t seem to be any half-way house in which he just performs solidly and without fuss.
The one positive to come from a moment so utterly feeble, though, was that it forced Arsenal to double their tempo and make their passing more incisive and progressive, where it had been tedious and aimless before.
It was the sort of placid possession football that has cost us dearly against the likes of Watford, Swansea, and Bournemouth – to name but a few – because it is so incredibly easy to defend against and spring a counter attack from.
When the Gunners started moving it quicker, however, Southampton’s many and obvious flaws were exposed and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang soon found himself in business, aided by an excellent lay off from Danny Welbeck.
Parity restored, Arsenal stepped it up and were comfortably in control by half-time, with Welbeck’s superb drive and strike handing them the league.
After the break, a sort of malaise gripped the Gunners again – as if they genuinely believed they could hold out for the 2-1 win – and Southampton were afforded a way back into a match they had no right to be in. Quite why, having conceded the number of goals they have, Arsenal believed they could see this one out is a mystery but try valiantly they did.
Once more we were forced to click through the gears and it was only the visitor’s ineptitude in defence that allowed the Gunners to fashion a series of good chances thereafter, culminating in Welbeck nodding home from close range with a little more than 10 minutes left to play.
It was nicely tucked away and the latest instalment in a very promising run of performances from the Englishman, even if he did make a pig’s ear of a glorious chance shortly before his winner. Perhaps the competition provided by Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang has inspired Welbeck to new heights. He has always been game, for sure, but never a creator or a prolific getter of goals – here’s hoping change is afoot.
The latter stages of the game descended into a bit of a farce as Southampton threw their toys out of the pram and Arsenal – led chiefly by Jack Wilshere – continued to wind them up at every available opportunity. It was all a little needless and pathetic but it did add a little fire to a game that had suffered from the lack of atmosphere created by the swathes of empty seats – two red cards and some ripped clothes will do that, you see.
I had thought the sad phenomena of empty seats might subside given our run of wins but not so, some fans are determined to stay away come what may. While that is their right, I think the anger is misdirected and their energies would be better directed at supporting the XI who take to the field.
In the end, it was another three points and a bit more momentum to take forward as we enter the final weeks of the season. We travel to Moscow next week and, all being well, we will book our place in the next round of the Europa League, where some real big fish await. As ever with Arsenal, though, complacency is never far away so let’s not count our chickens until they’ve hatched and started clucking.