Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney stood out at the back while Eddie Nketiah made the difference as Arsenal beat Southampton 2-0 on Thursday.
Arsenal thoroughly dominated the first half after an early scare, although the lack of a final ball and poor finishing meant they were only 1-0 up at the break. The sole goal, though, came from Eddie Nketiah, as he pounced on a dreadful mistake by Alex McCarthy, who had denied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a superb save just minutes earlier.
Southampton were much improved post the interval, but disciplined defending by Arsenal coupled with a fine save by Emiliano Martinez meant the Gunners retained their narrow advantage. The game was finally put to bed four minutes from regulation time, when Joe Willock scored from close range after Jack Stephens had been sent off for a foul on Aubameyang.
So, after a horrid resumption of their Premier League campaign, Arsenal are finally off the mark in the post-lockdown period, with the three points taking them up to ninth on the Premier League table. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Mikel Arteta’s men.
Emiliano Martinez: 8/10
A top effort by Martinez, who will likely be filling in for Bernd Leno for the remainder of the season. The Arsenal deputy goalkeeper had a straightforward game for the most part on Thursday, but was at hand to deny Southampton at every opportunity, with the save from Shane Long in the second half being particularly important.
Could have even earned an assist after sending Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang clean through on goal in the second half, only for the Arsenal captain to decide not to shoot. A huge confidence booster, the clean sheet.
Hector Bellerin: 5/10
One of the few Arsenal players who struggled against Southampton. Bellerin hardly posed a threat going down the right flank, while having an abysmal passing rate of 61 percent in addition to losing possession a shocking 22 times. Defensively, he was caught out a few times by Nathan Redmond, who won the duel between the two players on the day. Needs to improve.
Shkodran Mustafi: 7/10
Mustafi made a nervy start to the game, and earned an early yellow card. That meant he had to play cautiously, but with Danny Ings not quite at his best, Mustafi got through the rest of the game unscathed. Having said that the German, who is the most improved player under Arteta, did impress too, winning 7 duels in all. Room for improvement, still.
Rob Holding: 8/10
⚽️ Both goals scored by academy graduates.
🚫 A clean sheet for Emiliano Martinez.
👏 Rob Holding named Man of the Match.
— bet365 (@bet365) June 25, 2020
Another player whose confidence would have been boosted with his display against Southampton, like Martinez. Starting at the heart of the Arsenal defence, Holding showed a lot of composure and character, clearing the ball 8 times (including the most headed clearances), blocking a couple of shots while winning 100 percent of the aerial duels he contested.
Largely precise with the ball at his feet, Holding completed 39 of his 46 attempted passes, all while moving the ball along quickly so as to not allow Southampton to get into their shape. An outing that will take Holding a long way in the remainder of the season.
Kieran Tierney: 8/10
Back into the side after being benched last weekend, Tierney showcased just how much of a pivotal figure he can be for Arsenal in the long run. The Scottish full-back was composed off the ball, winning 5 duels.
Tierney also made quite an impact with his long balls (4/5 completed), which opened up play really well for the Gunners and even created one big chance, which Aubameyang missed, rattling the crossbar. Growing in stature.
Dani Ceballos: 6/10
With Granit Xhaka back in the side, Ceballos donned the creative hat against Southampton. The Spanish midfielder, though, was not quite at his best on the day, misplacing a number of passes and losing possession 13 times. His decision making looks suspect and that is an area he needs to address if he is to end the season on a high.
Granit Xhaka: 7/10
Fit again after missing out against Brighton & Hove Albion due to an injury, Xhaka showed just how crucial a member he is in Arteta’s squad. The Swiss international held the fort expertly in the middle of the park, ensuring Southampton never really got on top of Arsenal. Starting to establish himself as a leader again.
Nicolas Pepe: 5/10
Starting on the right flank for a second successive game, Pepe struggled on Thursday, hardly making an impact for Arsenal. The Ivorian was hardly involved, as he got just 18 touches on the ball and attempted a mere 7 passes, and he never really managed to get the better of Ryan Bertrand. The kind of anonymous showing that makes one question his price tag.
Bukayo Saka: 6/10
Deployed as an auxiliary midfielder once again, Saka had a hit and miss game. While he was full of energy and made a couple of key passes, the youngster also gave the ball away cheaply at times. A booking for a horrible tackle in the second half docks a point as well, seeing as it was more of an orange than a yellow. Decent enough, still.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: 5/10
The Arsenal captain was easily the most threatening player for Arsenal against Southampton. But, his profligacy meant nothing really came out of the threat Aubameyang posed all through the game. The Gabonese striker was denied by Alex McCarthy a couple of times, although he really should have scored when he struck the woodwork in the first half.
Aubameyang’s decision making also left a lot to be desired, as on one occasion, he chose to square the ball to Nketiah instead of taking aim at goal with no one but the Southampton goalkeeper to beat. In desperate need of some goals and inspiration, having gone four without finding the back of the net for the first time in his Arsenal career.
Eddie Nketiah: 7/10
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 25, 2020
The player who made all the difference. Nketiah might not have been involved a whole lot (he had just 25 touches and attempted 11 passes). However, when the time came to get Arsenal all three points, it was Nketiah who stood up and broke the deadlock, forcing McCarthy to make a botched clearance before scoring into an empty net. A fine asset at Arteta’s disposal.
Joe Willock: 7/10
On for the disappointing Pepe, Willock was enterprising in his cameo and got as many touches as the player he replaced in half the time on the pitch. Extremely accurate on the ball, he misplaced just one pass. The icing on top was his late goal, as he scored from close range to seal the deal for Arsenal, in what was his first Premier League goal.
Sead Kolasinac: 6/10
Kolasinac replaced Tierney with 20 minutes left in the game and the Bosnian was composed enough to help Arsenal see the game out without any major hiccup.
Alexandre Lacazette: N/A
Given the last 10 minutes or so, Lacazette was purposeful in his short appearance and was crucial in Willock’s goal as it was his shot that was spilled by McCarthy before the youngster scored from the rebound. A step in the right direction.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: N/A
A late introduction, Maitland-Niles was a fresh pair of legs towards the end of the game.