The Gunners claimed their first victory after Premier League resumption but they are far from a settled side six months into Mikel Arteta’s reign.
Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah scored either side of stoppage time to secure the three points on offer. The young Arsenal academy graduates got them across the line but it always looked as if they would surrender their lead.
The Gunners held on but everyone in front of their television sets were expecting a collapse. Whilst the result was a welcome departure for Gunners fans, those familiar with the Premier League TV schedule will take note that the side still have the likes of Leicester, Wolves Spurs and Liverpool still to play.
Nketiah gave the travelling side the much-wanted lead but it was a precarious one. They had to wait until 86 minutes to rest assured that the points were in the bag. Jack Stephens’ late red card also put aside any fears of a collapse.
The clean sheet was more than welcome. It shows the Gunners can claim scrappy wins and the previous two defeats were just ring rust. But this is far from the case. Mikel Arteta will only be pleased with the result but not the efforts of his players. He has a big task on his hands and Arsenal are far from realizing his ambitions.
Midfield rust and defensive complacency
The real issue is Arsenal’s efficiency with the ball. They hogged the ball against Brighton & Hove Albion but could not break the Premier League strugglers. It was a different story against Southampton as they were wrestled off the ball far too often and had lesser attempts than their rivals.
The Saints had a greater share of possession and were unlucky not to trouble the scoreboard. Ralph Hasenhuttl would scratch his head why his team could not make anything from their nine goal attempts. Nevertheless, the Saint Mary’s Stadium faithful will be pleased with their side’s efforts.
For Arsenal, the wake-up call continues. They were lucky to profit from Alex McCarthy’s error in the first half and put the jaded Saints to the sword for their second. The midfield is developing into a major issue for them. They cannot hold the ball and when they are in possession, they spray it forward randomly.
With competitive fixtures coming in thick, their strikers need better service than what they are getting at the moment. Arsenal could have let it slip. Southampton came back strongly in the second half and Arsenal have already dropped 10 points from winning positions under the Spaniard. However, the retired midfielder will take what he gets as his side close the gap on Tottenham.
Aubameyang and Ozil’s future
Arsenal are now two points away from Europa League contention next year and one man who can ensure it is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon forward was full of energy and showed why he is second only to Mesut Ozil in the Gunners’ dressing room.
Aubameyang had a goal disallowed but was full of industry, continuing to giving the opposition a run for their money. His future remains uncertain, especially if Arsenal fail to qualify for European competitions next year, but he has not let this affect his mindset.
The Emirates Stadium based entity would hope that Aubameyang’s industry rubs out on Mesut Ozil as well. The German playmaker has been an unused substitute in Arsenal’s last two games but should play a part in their end of season run-in. His quality is far superior to anyone else in their squad and is being wasted on the bench. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Aubameyang and Ozil, but one thing is for certain, they will leave a huge hole in Arsenal when they depart.
Arteta will have a huge conundrum on his hands, bigger than the one he inherited in December. Not only does he have to stabilize this rocking ship but ensure that it sails smoothly for the long haul.