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Match report: Arsenal 2, Southampton 0

A clean sheet and three points—Arsenal might have found their way again.

Arsenal FC v Southampton FC - Premier League Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Arsenal improved on their attacking form from three days ago, beating Southampton 2-0 relatively comfortably and inching ahead of Manchester United in the league table.

Southampton had the first good look—a lone Nathan Redmond drew a good save from Bernd Leno—but Arsenal struck first. After collecting a cross from Alex Iwobi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan hit either a blistering pass or a wildly off-target shot. Either way, it was straight at Alexandre Lacazette, and Laca directed it into the open side of the net for the first score of the game.

Leno had another save to make a few minutes later as Southampton peppered the Arsenal goal. It was an anxious couple of minutes for the Gunners, brought to an end only by a late whistle from referee Graham Scott in order to assist Sead Kolasinac, who had been caught with an elbow. Kolasinac looked more startled than injured, and he stayed in the game.

Arsenal’s defense didn’t look very polished, but their offense did, and 17 minutes in, they capitalized on another mistake from the Saints. Southampton keeper Angus Gunn’s kick went straight to Iwobi, who crossed it through both teams to Mkhitaryan. Mkhitaryan, almost alone on the right side of the pitch, couldn’t miss.

With half an hour gone, the Gunners had figured out how to keep the ball—Leno hadn’t had much to do since his last save fifteen minutes prior, and Southampton’s narrow back line invited plenty of Arsenal pressure on the wings. But Arsenal’s conversion rate was starting to look a bit more realistic—they spoiled a few set pieces and had a couple of shots saved by Gunn, and Lacazette got under one and put it over instead of into the net.

The first forty-five ended without any more scoring, and Arsenal took their 2-goal lead into the break.

Southampton, needing badly to adjust, made two changes at halftime, while Arsenal kept all of their starters on the pitch. The Saints found a bit of offense in the opening minutes of the second half, but it wasn’t enough to score—their best chance was hit wide by James Ward-Prowse.

Arsenal needed a bit of a warmup, and they were almost up to first-half speed when Laurent Koscielny came on for Stephan Lichtsteiner. With half an hour to go, the Gunners had come close to a third goal several times, with miscommunication tripping them up. Unai Emery brought on Mesut Özil (is their apparent feud finally over?) for Aaron Ramsey, who had had a good day carving up Southampton’s back line despite not adding to his goal or assist tallies.

Southampton then used their third substitution to replace Michael Obafemi, who had played only twenty minutes before going down in the center of the pitch with a hamstring problem. It was a recurrence of the injury for Obafemi, who had just come back after sitting out for a while—he had probably come back too soon.

Soon enough, Arsenal were forced into their own change. Emery had planned to substitute Lacazette for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Iwobi pulled up out of bounds with what looked to be a little calf cramp, and Aubameyang replaced him instead.

Auba almost made it three for Arsenal, but Gunn, who had largely had a good game, made another last-ditch save. His defense helped him out twice more in as many minutes before Southampton took the ball down the pitch for another try at Arsenal’s goal. Leno made one more save, turning away a floating twenty-yard shot from Matt Targett, and with that, Southampton were out of time and ideas.

Arsenal’s two early goals were all they needed, and they walked away with a clean sheet and three points. With United playing to a draw against Liverpool, Arsenal have gotten themselves into fourth place in the league by a single point.

Arsenal looked to have made a marked improvement from the previous few games, at least on offense. For the most part, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey (and then Mesut Özil) kept tight control of the midfield, and the Gunners took their chances early, giving themselves some breathing room later in the match. They’ll need to continue in that manner as the Europa League competition gets tougher and the Premier League season wraps up.

The Gunners’ next match is a Premier League tie against Bournemouth this Wednesday.