Arsenal were primed for another letdown today. You could see the makings of it before the match. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out because of another disciplinary issue. An unchanged lineup from the one that put in a stinker against Everton. A visit from a struggling Southampton team looking to find some form against a generous Arsenal side.
And the match started on that script. Arsenal were misplacing passes. Southampton were pressing hard and forcing turnovers. It was an atrocious opening 20 minutes from the Gunners. Then the script flipped.
Southampton pressed a bit too aggressively. Arsenal broke the press and 10 seconds later, it was in the back of the Saints’ net. It was exactly how Mikel Arteta would have drawn it up — from the move starting with Aaron Ramsdale, to Bukayo Saka’s pullback, to the composed finish from Alexandre Lacazette. It was lovely, formulaic football. We’ve seen that goal from Arsenal before and hopefully we see it again.
Much to my delight, the script-flipping trend continued from the Gunners. The last two matches (and this season, really) Arsenal have stopped playing after taking the lead. Today, they kept attacking and were rewarded just 6 minutes after going ahead. Kieran Tierney stayed with the play after bungling a volley and having a cross blocked. The third time was the charm, he headed it across the face for Martin Ødegaard to head home his third goal in as many matches for the Gunners.
Even at 2-0 up, Arsenal kept coming. The Gunners could have had one or two more in the first half but both Gabriel Martinelli and Alexandre Lacazette squandered chances to get shots away when they maybe had a window of space to take one. Willy Caballero also made two good saves, one on Bukayo Saka and another on a headed chance.
Also in the category of “pleasantly surprising things,” Arsenal dominated the second half of the match and really didn’t give Southampton a sniff. Part of that was the Saints not offering much resistance down 2-0, but I think a bigger part of it was the Gunners not relinquishing their grip on the game.
A few minutes after he had a goal chalked off by VAR for offside, Gabriel put the match away for Arsenal with a commanding header. Alexandre Lacazette might have gotten away with the slightest bit of interference on Caballero as he tried to come for the ball, but it was subtle enough that it didn’t get called. I was quite pleased with Mikel Arteta taking him off a few minutes later to protect his yellow card. Sidenote: Gabriel celebrated his goal by putting the ball under his shirt and sucking his thumb, perhaps an indication / announcement that he’s a father-to-be.
Arsenal kept coming up 3-0. Tomiyasu had a good headed chance. Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli both hit posts. I wouldn’t say it was a complete, 90-minute performance from Arsenal because of the shaky start. But once they took control of the match, they never looked back. 70 minutes of dominance is a marked improvement for the club.
It’s a bit hard to put into words because “lads, it’s Southampton.” The Saints are in a poor run of form and not a great team. Arsenal should be smashing them at the Emirates. But given the Gunners’ Jekyll & Hyde performances and inability to do what they’re supposed to do this season, I’ll happily take it. And just generally, watching Arsenal control a game, create chances, score goals, and win is fun!
Martin Ødegaard is in the midst of a nice run of form after a slow start to the season and intermittent usage. Gabriel had another massive performance; he’s an under-the-radar candidate for player of the year so far at the club. Another clean sheet for Aaron Ramsdale, who made a handful of smart saves when needed and had a particularly good day of distribution. Thomas Partey was better, he still had one or two not great moments, but definitely raised his level today. Alexandre Lacazette, despite his physical limitations being on display, scored his goal and was consistently involved in the play.
Pierre-Emerick Auabmeyang is the elephant in the room. Mikel Arteta said before the match that his absence was for disciplinary reasons and refused to elaborate in his post-match press conference. The Arsenal captain missed training yesterday, but it isn’t clear whether “missing training” was the infraction or if it’s something else. Either way, the Gunners need more from their captain and highest paid player.
But we’ll put that aside for now until we know more. Arsenal played really well, controlled a match, and won. That’s great. They’ve got a measuring-stick match against West Ham at the Emirates on Wednesday. With today’s performance, I’m not dreading it. In fact, I’m excited! The Gunners have another opportunity to start putting together a run and to make something of the season.