It was a pretty professional display that saw Arsenal cruise to a comfortable win over Southampton on Sunday.
The Gunners have so often made a hash of dealing with the plucky scrappers toward the bottom of the Premier League but they exacted a measure of revenge against the Saints on Sunday by scoring victory.
In truth, they might have had a hatful of goals to show for their efforts but, in the end, two goals and clean sheet was enough, with the strikes coming from Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mhkitaryan.
For most of the opening half we had things all our own way. It was fun in the sun. But I say only ‘most’ because there were a few typically comedic moments in defence early on that really might have altered the course of proceedings.
With Arsenal at the moment, there are always going to be chances for opposition teams. It’s almost become part of our makeup now.
It would be irrational to think we could get through every game without conceding chances – no team is capable of that – but, boy, we offer up some real whoppers.
Against the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City et al, those chances are gobbled up and we find ourselves on the end of a hiding. Against teams like Southampton, though, we ride our luck and come out the other end smiling. On this occasion, thanks largely to Bernd Leno, we found a way through it, but it was far from ideal and was a real microcosm of our season.
That’s not to take anything away from the overall performance in the first half, however. The Gunners put together one of the most cohesive displays I have seen in the Unai Emery era. The passing was short, sharp, precise and purposeful. The running beyond the ball was intelligent and progressive, with those sitting deeper having the accuracy to pick the right balls at the right times.
Emery often talks about his team imposing themselves and playing their way in his press conferences, if that first half showing was an example of what he means by that, I’m all for it.
It had bags of attacking intensity, it had efficiency, it had control. The defending was done from the front and it was done with the ferocity and desire necessary to really nullify the visitors.
Their two early opportunities aside, they really did struggle to make any inroads in our half. Even Stefan Lichsteiner – a player who has looked a few years past his best for most of the season – was transformed. He was incisive in attack and controlled in defence.
With the match more or less decided before the break, there was a noticeable drop in intensity from the hosts in the second period and, in truth, it was all a bit scrappy and lacklustre.
We struggled to find the space, time, and runs that we had in the first half and seemed content to invite Southampton on to us.
There were a few hair-raising moments that might have been avoided (Granit Xhaka, im looking at you) but no period in which I felt we might concede.
Emery looked to freshen a few things up by introducing Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the pair combined well on a few occasions in the last quarter as the visitors began to commit more bodies to the attack.
Aubameyang should probably have had a goal to his name, or at the last an assist, but he didn’t really get the rub of the green as he might have liked.
All told, it was a match won by half-time that consequently fizzled out but it would be churlish to take too much away from the Gunners, who have responded well to the setback in Belarus by notching up five goals and two clean sheets since then.
The Frenchman makes himself a real nuisance at the top end of the pitch, hassling and harrying in such a way that disconcerts defenders and gives us a dimension we haven’t really had as a team.
In fact, it was his tireless efforts that yielded the second goal for Mhkitaryan. If Emery can ensure he doesn’t burn out, while giving him enough minutes to keep him hungry and happy, he could be a big player between now and the end of the season.