Arsenal kept their hopes to make the Top 4 alive as they overpowered Southampton in a comfortable 2-0 win
Arsenal came within three points of a place in the Premier League Top 4 thanks to a convincing 2-0 win over Southampton at St. Mary’s on Wednesday night. The result saw them leapfrog Manchester United into 5th place, three points adrift of Manchester City and four behind Liverpool.
The first half was a sordid affair as the battle largely resided in the midfield, with Arsenal holding a slight upper hand, and the two teams entered the break exactly how they started the match – at 0-0.
And the visitors asserted that advantage in the second half as Mesut Ozil found Alexis Sanchez with a delightful pass before the Chilean finished the move with an equally magical combination of play as he wrong-footed two Southampton defenders before coolly slotting the ball in the back of the net.
Arsenal continued to dominate for the remainder of the match, and the win was then rounded off with just seven minutes left in regulation time, second half substitute Olivier Giroud headed the ball past Fraser Forster.
With Arsenal still in the hunt for a Top 4 finish, The Hard Tackle takes a look at the people who made a big impact on the game and others who disappointed with their contribution, as well as analysing the overall impact of the game.
A lot has been said about Petr Cech’s form this season and how he his glittering Premier League career could be coming to an end. Indeed, the veteran goalkeeper has often looked a pale shadow of his former domineering and assured self, as he has made some uncharacteristic errors over the course of the season.
Additionally, he has also been accused of not manning his near post efficiently, letting in one too many goal in that area. As a result, many have suggested that his time at Arsenal could be coming to an end, prompting Arsene Wenger to enter the market for a goalkeeper in the summer.
However, a completely different Cech has taken the field in the last month or so. He was agruably the only Arsenal player worth mentioning in good light following the 2-0 loss to Tottenham, and was again a solid presence between the sticks when Arsene Wenger’s men hosted Manchester United last Sunday.
And he was again crucial to his side’s fortunes on Wednesday, as he made two big saves against Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond in the first half. With the score still reading 0-0 at the point, and considering Arsenal’s vulnerabilities after they concede a goal or two, these were two big moments in the match for the visitors as Cech kept them in the match.
Should he continue in a similar vein in the coming weeks, we are likely to see Cech manning the goal for Arsenal next season as well, even if he finds his role slightly diminished.
Another player who has often been chastised this season for barely creating any impact in Arsenal’s matches has been Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder came into this season on the back of a solid campaign with Wales in the European Championship but he failed to back that up at the club level.
He created such huge waves in the 2013-14 season as he almost single handedly won several games for Arsene Wenger’s side. But injuries and poor form had coupled to make Ramsey a pale shadow of that all-action midfielder.
That was until this week, as Ramsey has ran the show in the last two games that Arsenal have played in the Premier League – which have arguably been their two best performances in 2017. And he, perhaps, produced his best performance of the season as he pulled the strings in the centre of the park.
Creating opportunities for the more advanced players, he also capped off a memorable performance with the assist for Olivier Giroud’s goal. Arsene Wenger recently changed his formation that is similar to the one that Antonio Conte has employed at Chelsea, and it looks like it has worked wonders for the output and, more importantly, confidence of Ramsey.
Southampton came into this match knowing that a win could see them get level on points with eight-placed West Bromwich Albion and even leapfrog them with a three-goal win. But what followed in the next ninety minutes was a major disappointment from Claude Puel and his men. They produced a toothless display against the visitors, who weren’t exactly at their best.
Puel has now failed to win a single game against the top 6 sides in the Premier League. And it is looking increasingly unlikely that Puel will be able to match his two predecessors by finishing in the top 8 for a fourth consecutive season.
That is quite unfortunate as they faced an Arsenal side that isn’t exactly high on confidence despite the win over Manchester United on the weekend. Arsene Wenger’s men have looked prone to losing the grip on the matches early on , of late.
And that is where Claude Puel’s major undoing was, as his side failed to grab the game by the scruff of its neck with Arsenal slow off the blocks, as the Saints looked like the away side for the majority of the contest. Surely, there are improvements needed for Puel to make his mark next season.
Manolo Gabbiadini had set the Premier League alight almost as soon as made his initial foray into English football, as he scored four goals in his first three games to leave everyone excited. However, he soon picked up a hamstring injury that sidelined him for just over a month and he hasn’t looked the same since.
Struggling for pace at times while failing to finish the chances coming his way, Gabbiadini has failed to match the instant impact that he had created following his debut for the Saints. And that was again the case on Wednesday as Arsenal came visiting.
Sure, he had a good shot being thwarted by Petr Cech apart from going close with a free-kick, but he was largely a passenger for the better part of the match and bereft of inspiration when Southampton were in need of a goal.
Perhaps, with Charlie Austin on the comeback trail Gabbiadini will find enough motivation to keep his place as the focal point of the Southampton attack. Only time will tell that, though.
Analysis of the Impact
Has Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played his last game in an Arsenal shirt?
The turn of the year has turned Arsenal’s fortunes around in stunning fashion who, apart from the progression to the FA Cup final, have looked unlike any Arsene Wenger team that ever played. However, if there’s a player who has been one of the few shining lights for the Gunners, it’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
A revelation in midfield, and a tireless worker when deployed as a makeshift right wing-back, Oxlade-Chamberlain has worked his socks off to leave his mark on games. However, despite being one of the best players for Arsenal in 2017, speculation is rife that the Englishman could be on his way out of Arsenal.
The latest sets of reports have suggested that Oxlade-Chamberlain would be open to a move to Liverpool in the summer to take his career to the next level, while Arsenal are eager to keep hold of him. Despite all that, though, he was again a menacing presence in the final third for Arsenal in the final third.
That was before an unfortunate hamstring injury forced him off the field in the first half. The early reports suggest that his campaign may have ended prematurely. Could that be the case for his Arsenal career as well? Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the judge of that, but a move may be in the offing.
What about Hector Bellerin’s future at the Emirates?
With Arsenal being in a rut for major parts of the season, the blame has to be attributed to a certain set of players who have failed to create the impact expected out of them. One such player is Hector Bellerin.
Bellerin stormed onto the scene as one of the most exciting prospects in Europe as he took no time to cement his place on the right side of the Arsenal defence. Solid at the back due to his electric pace, and lively in the final third, he looked like a complete full-back.
But having suffered an ankle injury towards the end of 2016, he has looked far from the player who excited everyone with his potential as he has struggled defensively while also failing to influence games up front. As a result, he has lost his place in the starting lineup, playing second fiddle to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
However, with the Englishman suffering a potential season-ending injury, Bellerin’s Arsenal career could have a new lease of life.
The Spaniard now has four games in the remainder of the season to impress Arsene Wenger and rightfully reclaim his place back in the starting lineup should he remain at Arsenal beyond the summer – mind you, Barcelona are circling as well.