Southampton prove to be Arsenal’s equal

I turned on my stream in time to catch the warmups. Southampton’s Luke Shaw was kicking the ball with purpose to a teammate, and the look on his face was serious, severe even. It may have been me reading something into it but I felt like I was watching a player who was warmed up both physically and mentally. And that’s when I felt this deja vu creep over me of that day at Wembley as I watched Birmingham warm up for the League Cup final and I thought Southampton was a team ready to give Arsenal a good game.

Then, as they took to the center circle for kickoff, I was reminded of Bradford’s captain bragging about how their manager wrote ‘poor team’ on the Arsenal team sheet before Arsenal’s ignominious exit at their hands in the League Cup last month. I wondered if Southampton’s Atkins had done the same? Or if, at least, he had mentioned Bradford. As in, “are you boys better than Bradford? Prove it.” And on the measure of the game, they did.

The reality is that Bradford is the low water mark for Arsenal and that every team can now hang hope on their example. “Are you better than Bradford?” could have been the rallying cry in the Southampton dressing room. Arsenal weren’t better than Bradford on that day and they weren’t yesterday against Southampton. And the hard truth many Arsenal fans are waking up to this morning is that despite the massive gap in spending between the two teams and the pedigree of Arsenal, very little remained between them and it was the North London “superclub” who were lucky to get away with a point.

Arsene started the match with Theo Walcott up front as the lone center forward and it worked a charm, if the charm was intended to prove that Theo is not a center forward in order to lower his asking price in contract negotiations. He had 4 passes in the first half and only 5 touches by the time his free kick was fortuitously deflected into the Southampton goal. He won exactly zero aerial duels despite the fact that Arsenal’s Polish keeper kept kicking the ball to him and his isolation up front was so complete that it reminded me of the game in which Arsene Wenger put Andrei Arshavin up front as a center forward only for the fans to watch in horror as Szczesny again kicked ball after fruitless ball to him.

The problem wasn’t, as so many are trying to argue, that Southampton “played deep”: they actually didn’t play extraordinarily deep against Arsenal. The problem is that Theo Walcott didn’t know what to do when starved of service. What he should have done was drop deep, like Robin van Persie does, and insert himself into the game. Draw the defenders out and create space for others. Instead, he wandered around up front waiting to be spoon fed the ball. There’s more to being a center forward than pace and scoring goals, there’s an entire tactical side of the game that clearly Walcott had no clue about yesterday and which hopefully he has today.

And credit must go to Southampton’s players and staff who contrived to starve Theo of service by shutting down Arsenal’s wing-backs and forwards through a combination of good tackling, early pressing, and reading the passing lanes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was 0/4 in dribbles and passed the ball at a team low 63%*. The Ox spent the entire evening in Luke Shaw’s pocket searching for licorice allsorts among the bits of fluff that were his game.

Shaw and Cork were ably aided by Morgan Schneiderlin who had the game I thought he would have in the first meeting. He’s a much classier midfielder than many give credit and while he may be a bit one-paced reads the game very well, tackles well (4/4), and is very tidy in possession. He and Steven Davis combined well to cover Arsenal’s flanks and force Arsenal to dribble into blind corners throughout the match. As you can see by the tackling chart, those four (Shaw, Cork, Schneiderlin, and David) simply clipped Arsenal’s wings:

Tackles

Up front, Puncheon was outstanding for Southampton and was easily the man of the match. He took four shots, got two on target, dribbled past both fullbacks, cut back, led Southampton in crossing and generally showed good vision and guile for a wide player. Exactly the kind of player that Arsenal are missing.

This is not to say that Arsenal should buy Puncheon. Rather, that Arsenal played at a level that makes players like Puncheon and Luke Shaw look like viable transfer targets. No offense, but those shouldn’t be players Arsenal aspire to acquire. But that’s the problem with this Arsenal team, they were matched, kick for kick, pass for pass, tackle for tackle, and shot for shot with Southampton. Yesterday’s 1-1 draw wasn’t an example of Arsenal getting unlucky, they created just one shot on goal all game, it was yet another example of how Arsenal can play down to any team’s level.

With silent lips, “Give us your Bradfords, your Norwich,
your Southamptons yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your lower league.
Send these, the pointless, hard-workers to me,
I lift the light of free points for their fatigue!

There are a lot of people calling for reinforcements at Arsenal in the January transfer window. Bodies, they say, are needed. And it’s hard to disagree that Arsenal couldn’t find improvement in every single position. But the problem is that Arsenal have plenty of bodies and they don’t need any more lying around collecting paychecks. They need players, not bodies. They need hard work. They need fresh ideas. And they simply need to play better than the Southamptons of the world.

This is The Arsenal we are talking about here.

Qq

*Technically, Szczesny and Giroud were lower in passing percent. But Giroud came on late and keepers always have a low passing rate because they try so many long balls.

29 thoughts on “Southampton prove to be Arsenal’s equal

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1Graeme

    And the hard truth many Arsenal fans are waking up to this morning is that despite the massive gap in spending:

    Saints spent over 30 million in the summer transfer window.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      HA! Yes, the owners have dished out about £60m over the last few years to earn promotion and pay off their debts.

      But, what do they spend on wages? We don’t have this year’s figures but last year they spent £11m on wages. Arsenal spent £140m. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Southampton are at or near the bottom of all clubs in the Premier League in terms of wages.

  2. Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    “They need players, not bodies. They need hard work. They need fresh ideas.”

    This is the crux of it for me, and no January signing can help this team unless the existing squad find a way to get their act together with even a modicum of consistency.

    A big fall off from key guys that we rely on is perhaps survivable against a team like Soton who can gift us a draw, but similar performances against the big matches this month will bring predictable results.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1Ras Dam

    ‘there’s an entire tactical side of the game that clearly Walcott had no clue about yesterday and which hopefully he has today.’

    I guess playing him out on the wing to learn his trade with the intention of moving him to the middle hasn’t gone too well. He turns 24 this season. He joined us aged 16. 8 years to learn how to play up front? I think someone was lied to.

    My thoughts on the match? *One big fucking sigh*

  4. Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    “Arsenal have plenty of bodies and they don’t need any more lying around collecting paychecks. They need players, not bodies. They need hard work. They need fresh ideas.”

    This is the crux of it for me and well said.

    No superstar signing at any position will fix what’s wrong with this club if the players can’t or won’t play beyond the current level of mediocrity.

    We are underdogs for our next two league fixtures. COYG…take a page from our own recent history. We have to be like Bradford Town to these teams and give them and ourselves a badly needed shock.

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1dy

    I’m in the camp which believe there’re lots of quality but unknown players in every league in the world. Obviously there’s not a scouting network who has the manpower to do such research on a day to day basis keeping tabs on all the potentials available. The point and click of the electronic age doesn’t have much say in the selection process though it helps.
    Arsenal is suffering from the identity crisis since Fabregas left. The players that the club brought in for the recent 2 reasons just don’t compliment what we ‘think’ our Arsenal team is supposed to be. And they very rarely perform like one we knew.
    In a nut shell, the problem lies in the selection process and policy of identifying the player needed.

  6. Vote -1 Vote +1dy

    basically Arsenal is suffering from an identity crisis since the day Fabregas left, until this problem is sorted out by the club or Arsene, the team will continue to play inconsistently.

  7. Vote -1 Vote +1Teampossible

    I firmly believe that the problem now is much deeper than any transfer can solve.
    We have a midfield of Arteta/Wilshere/Cazorla who are definite starters, hell some even for the clubs currently above us.
    And yet they fail to create chances.
    So my question is how is bringing Adrian Lopez (which I hope won’t happen, btw) or any other striker or midfield substitute going to fix this?
    Is Cazorla suddenly going to start creating chances, or is Arteta going to score 15 goals till the end of the season?
    I sadly believe that the one transfer this club should make is in the managerial department, but not in January.

  8. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    The real problem for Arsenal is that we made and lost the type of players (RVP, Fabregas) we desperately need now and they are irreplaceable. We can bring in good players but the players we lost are the “top, top quality players” that Wenger sets as the bar for purchase. Unless you are talking Ozil or a Falcao, we are going to get 2A players and not 1A, maybe.

    Remember we wanted Sahin but Wenger would not be held hostage on the terms and the kid now can’t get off the bench at Liverpool. Song is either on the bench or at CB. Modric who at least drove the Sp**s attack, can’t get off the bench at Real Madrid. So buying players is a lot like buying a mutual fund, past results are not predictive of future gains.

    Our players just need a kick up their rears to get their acts in gear. Drop Sagna. Rest Wilshere and let’s see what Rosicky can do for us. Gibbs is safe because the back up fell off the totem pole. Podolski is safe because no one wants to see Gervinho miss that near post shot for the umpteen time.

    Remember when the opposition tactic was to close done Arteta and that stifled (Edith) the Arsenal forward movement? Nobody has to bother with that now because there is no movement in front of him. On defense, average MFs are simply running past Arteta (and Wilshere) unimpeded to our goal.

    We are in a sorry state despite the record because it should be better but it may become worse.

  9. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Limestonegunner

    It is odd that we have been so ineffective frequently at creating chances when we have some really fine players in midfield. Somehow the mix and balance isn’t right and what I think we are lacking is some strength and physical dynamism. Diaby had that for the few minutes he was healthy. Song provided some of that strength but I think Rosicky might be good to play. Cazorla looks a bit jaded and Rosicky can bring the ball forward quickly. Maybe we’d create more chances?

    I think Tim is spot on with the wide attacker/winger suggestion because each of our current forwards likes to play centrally and is a good finisher. What isn’t always happening is getting the ball from midfield to a creative player who can fabricate a chance for Podolski, Theo or Giroud.

  10. Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    I’m watching a little of Pool-Sunderland and Suarez just ran down a ‘loss cause’ ball to save a goal kick. How many f**kin’ balls did we watch Podolski fail to chase down yesterday because he is a lazy so and so. Suarez at least gives you 125%.

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    I thought our MF was very poor against Southampton. I think people have said this before but I’ll say it again – the Arteta/Cazorla/Wilshere trio doesn’t seem balanced enough. We are really missing Song’s technical ability in MF. I remember a couple of years ago, we would win most of the 50/50 balls in MF – and it was all down to our technique. Song was the kind of player who could hold off other players, play out of tight spaces and get out of trouble. Arteta can’t do that and I think that’s why teams are finding it so effective to press us now. Santi and Jack seem to know this and they are dropping deeper to carry the ball out of MF. This has two negative effects. 1) It destabilizes our possession game and makes us more of a counter attacking team and 2) It prevents our MFers to make more frequent runs into the box. I genuinely think getting the right MFer who can replace Song’s technical ability will solve half of our problems. I don’t know who that is but hard to believe that a player like that isn’t available.

    The other thing that’s been disappointing is Sagna’s recent form. Is he suffering from Out of Contract Syndrome? I can’t ever remember him looking so lethargic and immobile. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jenkinson in the starting line up next game. He hasn’t put a wrong foot fwd all season.

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    I’m no longer surprised by performances like this. Did I expect us to beat Southampton? Absolutely. But I also expect that Arsene’s teams of the last few seasons are not only capable of turning in an abject, insipid, absolutely shitty performance but can be counted on to do so at any moment. Hell, just this past month we’ve suffered through Swansea, Bradford, and now Southampton. People complain about the inconsistency of the squad. I see consistency. For the past few seasons, the team has consistently had a half dozen, maybe ten games a season in which we drop points not because the opposition performed at a high level but because we couldn’t be bothered to compete in any way on the pitch. Not just an off day but an absolutely shitty performance. And it seems to be happening more often. Last season, if we had a performance like this, at least RvP could pull a rabbit out of a hat. This season, there’s nobody capable of that.

    For me, performances like this are simply the most glaring symptom of the overall malaise which has settled onto the club. Wenger seems to be at a loss as to why it happens and seems as frustrated by it as any fan, probably far more frustrated than we as fans are. And yet it happens far too often and has been a consistent aspect of his teams, especially in the last couple of seasons. The squad does need reinforcement and new players will help that. Still, it seems to me that it’s not just the playing squad which needs freshening.

  13. Vote -1 Vote +1torontogooner

    Honestly what stood out to be was how piss poor sagna and arteta were. Arteta was ok retaining the ball and restarting the attack but defensively he is too slow and i don’t think he has the skill set to be a fulltime CDM. There’s rumors that we’re going after M’villa or Afriyie Acquah (palermo) and that’s the most important part of the team we need to strengthen. We definitely miss alex song….sigh.

  14. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

    @nycgunner

    “We are really missing Song’s technical ability in MF. I remember a couple of years ago, we would win most of the 50/50 balls in MF – and it was all down to our technique. Song was the kind of player who could hold off other players, play out of tight spaces and get out of trouble. Arteta can’t do that and I think that’s why teams are finding it so effective to press us now.”

    Then why sell Song with 3 years remaining on his contract? We always seem to have holes in squad balance, not out of necessity, but by design.

    I am not one for conspiracy theories, but at some point one has to ask how a supposedly top club can be so dysfunctional from the top down. Ownership battles, Board disruption, top players being sold, bargain players not being bought, sudden tactical naivety, big contracts for dross players, massive squad turnover, obvious deficiencies not being addressed, etc. It’s almost like the “perfect storm” of instability.

    I have no answers, like most fans, only questions.

  15. Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    I have to say, I’m no longer surprised by performances like this. Was I expecting a victory? Absolutely. Was I surprised at the performance? Sadly, not really. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few seasons, it’s that not only are Arsene’s Arsenal capable of stinking up the joint with a toothless, abject performance, they can be expected to have a shitty performance a few times a season. Performances which would be embarrassing for a Championship side, let alone a BPL side with supposed ambitions for silverware.

    Many fans bemoan the teams inconsistency. Frankly, I see consistency. Every season for the past five or so seasons, Arsenal have consistently mailed in a half dozen or more shitty performances which are inexplicably bad given the talent available to the manager. Just in the past month, we’ve had to suffer through Swansea, Bradford, and now Southampton. And after every such game, Wenger is at a loss to explain it, expects the players to learn from it, and promises a vigorous, committed reply. I’m sure there will be better performances, even scintillating ones. I think we’ll finish fourth, fifth at worse, the talent available certainly merits that expectation. But, I’m equally convinced that the squad will have at least a couple of more Bradford-like outings and Arsene will again promise that the squad will learn and come stronger because of its mental strength, etc.

    For me, the Southampton game, Bradford, Swansea, ManUre all point to a malaise at the club which goes deeper than the players. The squad needs strengthening, no doubt, and new players will improve it. But, at this point, I’m not sure that the squad is the only thing which needs freshening.

  16. Vote -1 Vote +1Wang

    Agree we’re missing Song, but it’s his 0.7 through balls per game (and Fab’s before him that we’re missing. When Cazorla is on he can provide them, but he seems to occasionally go missing.

    I think we have quality players, but perhaps their talents don’t mesh well, or are too similar at times. Poldi & Cazorla both like to come deep to collect the ball, leaving no one between the lines. Giroud, Walcott, and the Ox all seem planted in place at times, lacking the movement necessary to receive a through ball and slice open a defense.

    Again, Rosie impressed me with his movement and industry in his last app, but hasn’t been able to get off the bench since. It’s not like Arsene, but mixing up the lineups might help us find the right chemistry in attack. Newcastle’s defense was in shambles, but hard-working and disciplined teams like the Saints and Bradford have shown how to stifle our attack, and we desperately need a response.

  17. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

    Have to agree.

    Giroud should have started up top to make full use of Podolski Walcott (or vice versa)

    I also wonder if the gaffer’s rotational policy is efficient enough.

    Not to make any excuses but this comes quickly on the heels of the Newcastle match. Perhaps Rosicky could have been useful.

    If he isn’t able to rotate with the current squad, then he should consider bringing in a couple more players to provide him with the necessary option(s).

  18. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

    The midfield engine has been erratic and easily stifled.

    Think we also have to consider Arteta’s overuse.

    One more player to provide a combative edge (with preferably the physical strength of Diaby, not durability) would help.

    Then we have Rosicky and the new player as an option. Plus we can play Jack spoear point in midfield and have the ability to shift Santi wide if need be for variation.

    Wenger is too predictable. He is trying to provide himself variation with Walcott up front which is great but he then sticks to it dogmatically without modifying to opponents strength/weakness.

    I don’t think that by and large we have poor players. I do think Wenger’s choices and tactics can sometimes sap the confidence out of an otherwise potentially very strong team.

  19. Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

    Come on Tim. Yes, we were terrible, but what does Arsenal’s draw with Southampton have to do with the teams’ comparative wage bills? Nothing. It happens.

    Besides, you dismiss a net transfer spend but it is important. Especially over a number of years. Because having a positive net spend usually indicates that you are building on a squad rather than replacing/firefighting. As for Arsenal’s wage bill, it is there for a reason. We’ve consistently finished in the higher reaches of the table. You yourself compare missing out on the CL with relegation. Let Southampton spend 6 years in the Premier League, let alone 16, and watch their wage bill skyrocket. And they’ll still lose, and be relegated one day with a massive wage bill compared to newly promoted sides. No one will bring up their wage bill unless they’re in danger of going bust.

  20. +1 Vote -1 Vote +11steved1

    I worry for Szez sometimes simply because he kept trying to find Theo like he did with Arsharvin. That constant failed delivery starves us of the ball.
    I watched with alarming obviousness us pass pass pass then back to Szez to lump it forward to Theo…….possession lost!

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  22. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

    The huge question which immediately comes to mind is why do fans think we are trying to bring in a “Song” type replacement when we did not have to sell him in the first place.

    If we were, wouldn’t it have made sense to acquire that type player simultaneously with Song’s departure. And no, Diaby is not even close to being a Song type player even though he is physically imposing.

    I could be totally wrong, but this seems to be similar to letting Gilberto go and relying on Denilson as the DM, another failed experiment.

  23. Vote -1 Vote +1fcArsenal

    The Ox spent the entire evening in Luke Shaw’s pocket

    Yeh he should have made some more inner runs rather than jut attack the corner flag.

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