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Southampton 1 - Arsenal 0 match report: out with a whimper

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The Gunners’ FA Cup defense comes to an early close with a particularly poor performance.

Southampton v Arsenal: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Well that was a waste of time. A heavily rotated Arsenal side bowed out of the FA Cup 1-0 to Southampton in an effort that is best summed up simply by saying, “yeah, they put on their kits and ran about.” Without Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Thomas Partey starting, the Gunners reverted to their often uninspired, sometimes downright insipid play.

Bernd Leno aside, I don’t think that any of the starting 11 put in above a 5/10 performance, and that might be too generous. Gabriel looked particularly rusty after his COVID case and three weeks away. Rob Holding looked a bit tired and leggy, which is understandable given how much he’s playing of late. Cedric was poor. Hector Bellerin was a non-factor.

Granit Xhaka didn’t do anything. Willian was awful, as usual. Mohamed Elneny put in his worst performance of the season.

Nicolas Pepe created the most chances (5) of anybody on the pitch for Arsenal but squandered just as many if not more. Gabriel Martinelli ran hard, as usual, but didn’t really have much of an opportunity to do anything because he didn’t see much of the ball, and when he did, he was quite isolated. Eddie Nketiah is a goal poacher, nothing more; his movement isn’t great nor is his decision-making outside the box.

Not surprisingly, the quality picked up with the introductions of Bukayo Saka and Thomas Partey, and to a lesser extent, Alexandre Lacazette. But it was too little, too late. Even with the changes, Arsenal really didn’t trouble Southampton’s defense.

The Gunners should have had a penalty for what, to me, was a clear handball by Kyle Walker-Peters that wasn’t given. And as far as I could tell, wasn’t reviewed with VAR, either. The officiating in England continues to concern me, but that was nowhere near why Arsenal didn’t manage a result today.

But Arsenal didn’t “deserve” anything from the performance today. It was poor. There is a gulf in quality between the top and bottom of the Arsenal roster the size of the Grand Canyon, and it was prominently on display today. The squad selection sends a clear signal that Mikel Arteta is prioritizing the Premier League and the Europa League. Arsenal better beat this Southampton side on Tuesday. At least they’ll be the more rested side.