It was the same story, different day for Arsenal in today’s 1-0 loss to Southampton. The performance was neither great nor terrible, The Gunners had the better of the action. But none of that matters to the final scoreline. It’s still a third consecutive match lost at a time when Mikel Arteta’s side cannot afford to be dropping points.
Arsenal cannot buy a goal. Things weren’t helped today by Fraser Forster having his best performance in months (years?), either. He made three or four magnificent saves, the level of save that you’re happy if your keeper gives you one of them a game. He denied Bukayo Saka on a chance so good that Martin Ødegaard was already celebrating. He stopped Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe, and Granit Xhaka on shots that in other matches this season have found the back of the net for the Gunners.
The Gunners also aren’t getting any luck. Southampton scored on a broken play, off a player hoofing the ball blindly over his own head into a space mostly created by Ben White getting knocked over and being flat on his face off the pitch.
Another part of the bad luck comes from the refereeing. Inside the first 30 minutes of the match Yan Valery committed two yellow-card worthy fouls. He pulled back Eddie Nketiah to prevent him breaking in on goal (as the last man - it could have been a straight red), and he wildly slid through Nuno Tavares’ legs on the edge of the area. If the first one is carded, Valery either doesn’t slide through on Tavares, which gives Arsenal a great chance with an open fullback dribbling into the box looking for a cutback, or he does slide through and gets sent off. If he’s carded for the second one, he spends 60 minutes of the match having to be extra careful that he doesn’t get sent off. Carding players, especially defenders, changes the way matches play out. They have to play more cautiously and give more time and space.
You can count the key injuries as part of that bad luck, too. Thomas Partey’s absence is painfully obvious. Each passing match without Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu magnifies their importance to the setup as well. The Gunners are a rebuilding squad without the depth necessary to sustain a top level of play when three first choice players go down to injury.
Nuno Tavares was fine on the day, a vast improvement over his recent performances. It was quite encouraging, especially because there were some who thought his time at Arsenal might be finished. He’s not Kieran Tierney, however. Tierney is more defensively solid, understands what Mikel Arteta wants from his LB in the system, and has more purpose when he gets forward. Tavares likes to attack and got forward a bit today, but his attacking is chaotic. Tierney’s is focused.
On the other side of the defense, Cedric was dire. He’s used up his handful of solid to good performances and has turned back into the pumpkin he truly is. He squandered two free kicks from fantastic positions in the first half, sending them harmlessly into touch. His attacking “contributions” were floating balls into the area to nobody in particular that were easy claims for Forster. And it was his right side of the defense that left chasms of space on the Southampton goal. He’s not playing anywhere near the level Arsenal need, even from a backup. A replacement is needed in the summer.
A few more quick player notes:
- Martin Ødegaard had a much better game back in his more advanced right side role. Along with Bukayo Saka, he was Arsenal’s most dangerous attacking player.
- Emile Smith Rowe once again didn’t offer very much. His regression to the finishing mean has been painful — he scuffed a great chance that had he made better contact would have almost certainly found the back of the net.
- Gabriel Martinelli was pretty good in the day, but Arsenal need to find more ways to get him involved. He goes missing for 15-20 minute stretches, in part because they don’t / can’t get him the ball.
- Eddie Nketiah was a more energetic, similarly ineffective to Alexandre Lacazette striker. He’s not the answer up top for the Gunners.
- There are promising pieces to Sambi Lokonga’s game, but he needs to speed up his decisionmaking and play.
It’s slowly slipping away for the Gunners, which is disappointing because before the injuries and three consecutive losses, they had a really good shot to get back into the Champions League ahead of schedule. But I’m not all that upset about the performances. Arsenal are playing right around the level most people expected coming into the season. I’ve seen promising improvement, and I’ve seen maddening inconsistency. It’s about what you’d expect from the youngest squad in the Premier League in the midst of a rebuild with a relatively thin roster.
Hopefully Mikel and the lads can find a way to right the ship because Arsenal really need to at least get into the Europa League. They’ve got Chelsea, Manchester United, and West Ham up next. Not an easy road.