It wasn’t pretty for long stretches, but Arsenal saw off Southampton 2-0 at the St. Mary’s. And you know what? The three points count the same in the table regardless how you get them. The win takes Arsenal up to 9th place, a point behind Sheffield and two behind Spurs, both of whom the Gunners play before the end of the season.
The first half performance was better than anything Arsenal put in against Manchester City or Brighton & Hove Albion, but that may not be saying much. Eddie Nketiah’s hard work to close down Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy forced an error that earned the striker a walk-in opening goal. But the Gunners should have gone in at the break up 2 or 3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got in behind early but the ball bobbled on him. McCarthy got a finger to the shot and put it off the bar. Arsenal squandered two great counterattacks as well. One went wanting when Dani Ceballos slowed down the move and picked the wrong pass. The other fizzled when Nketiah couldn’t decide between shooting or playing it to Aubameyang and put it harmlessly out of play in his indecision.
The connection and ball movement between the defense, midfield, and attack was better with Granit Xhaka in the lineup, but Arsenal still lack consistent link-up play. Without much on-ball creativity in the side, the Gunners rely on countering and playing directly in behind/over-the-top for chances. They’re getting some of those balls, but not enough of them. Dani Ceballos had a bit of stinker, completing just 76% of his passes. That’s not good enough from one of the two players tasked with connecting the play.
Arsenal weren’t as good in the second half. Southampton sub Kyle Walker-Peters was particularly dangerous, and the Gunners looked stretched thin for the first 30 minutes of the second frame. Fortunately, Emi Martinez made the one big save asked of him on Southampton’s best chance of the match. Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi both put in strong performances in the center of the defense.
With the match ticking towards full time, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as he often has this season, sealed things for Arsenal. The striker chased down an errant back pass, forcing Jack Stephens to take him down for a red card. Alexandre Lacazette had the ensuing free kick and follow-up blocked, but Joe Willock put away the third chance to confirm the points.
So Arsenal have finally gotten a win. They’ve still got a ways to go but seeing that “W” can do wonders for a team. The Gunners are next in action on Sunday away to Sheffield United in the FA Cup quarterfinal.