Arsenal put on a stylish display to dispatch Southampton in a 2-0 home win lifting a bit of the pressure from Unai Emery’s shoulders.
With two early goals setting the tone, the Gunners rarely looked out of control as they have stepped up their quest for fourth place and a coveted Champions League spot.
The second half dried up considerably, but similarly, the home side never relinquished their grasp of the game, doing enough at both ends to hold onto their valuable three points.
But what did we learn?
1. Lacazette is the key man
Only six minutes into the game, after confusion around a penalty decision, Alexandre Lacazette fumbled the ball over the line to open up Arsenal’s account.
The Frenchman missed a couple of opportunities, one near the end of the first half which seemed almost impossible to avoid the target, but was a constant threat, linking up well with the three behind him to be a constant thorn in the side of Southampton’s defence.
If Emery’s men are to maintain their mission for European silverware and a place in the Champions League next season, the Spaniard and the Frenchman will have to stick together to guide the Gunners to glory.
Alexandre Lacazette has now scored in each of his last four Premier League home games:
⚽️ vs. Fulham
⚽️ vs. Chelsea
⚽️ vs. Cardiff
⚽️ vs. Southampton
Sound the trumpet. 🎺 pic.twitter.com/p8AAwdr2vE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 24, 2019
2. First back-to-back league wins since January
Arsenal recorded their first back-to-back league wins since the start of January, building on their mid-week momentum of beating BATE Borisov 3-0 in the Europa League to progress to the last-16.
Granit Xhaka’s midweek display was inspired and he was able to pull the strings again here, acting as a key player in Arsenal’s transition, moving the ball from deep with both short passes and longer balls, pushing play right up the opposition box.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has scored his fifth goal of the 2018-19 Premier League season, his highest ever tally within a single campaign in the competition:
On the scoresheet under Emery again. pic.twitter.com/gZrDMToth7
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 24, 2019
Quick in transition, Arsenal showed themselves capable of picking up balls from the counter as well as building from the back. This promising display from Emery’s men bodes well for their hunt for Champions League football next season.
Moments of their build-up play were near-flawless as Lacazette had numerous opportunities to add to Arsenal’s two-goal tally in the first half. The confidence seems to have come back to the side and their nuanced attacking movement was at times reminiscent of Arsene Wenger’s sides that boasted club legends like Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg.
Entering the second-half with 70% possession, Arsenal looked dominant although only managed to get four of their 11 shots on target. Despite brief spells of attractive football, the second half was largely unimaginative in comparison to the first.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel: sqwk.at/Squawka-Sub
3. Arsenal shaky at the back
Arsenal’s goal came right after Southampton’s Nathan Redmond found space in behind the defence after sloppy defending from Shkodran Mustafi. In what looked like a defence that had yet to realise the whistle had blown, Arsenal’s goalkeeper Bernd Leno kept up the laissez-faire attitude minutes later almost giving the Saints another opportunity in the attacking third.
Again, seemingly not quite awake, Arsenal were let off when a fizzing strike from Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse went wide after a lazy pass from Xhaka chipped the ball right into his path just yards outside of the box.
Although the Saints weren’t able to punish these errors, a superior team would. With upcoming ties against Bournemouth, Tottenham and Manchester United, Emery will have to drum it into his men to tighten up at the rear less they lose a goal from one of the many opportunities they gave away.
4. Ozil benched again
Mesut Ozil made a valiant return to Emery’s side against BATE midweek, once again dictating play from his central position. Reports surrounding the German midfielder’s future have been coming in thick and fast and his performance in the Europa League likely deserved a place back in the side.
That wasn’t to be the case though. Ozil started this one from the bench, Aaron Ramsey taking his position behind the striker and the captain’s armband in lieu of his big-money move to Juventus. Considering Southampton are very much a struggling side, Ozil’s absence is a statement from Emery.
Not only will he refuse to bend his will to that of his stars, but he’s also saying that places in his squad are earned not given. This might jeopardise one or both of their futures further, but it’s hard to dispute the manager’s decision after their performance.
After the BATE victory, Ozil’s second only start of 2019, Emery made his intentions clear that he’d still continue to use the player on a rotational basis. Speaking after the win, Emery said: “His spirit like today is good and his quality and capacity and combination with some players is good. I think we need every player, and playing Mesut was important and positive.”
Numerous players including Alex Iwobi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Granit Xhaka have come out in defence of the midfielder, piling the pressure on Emery as fans want to see their star starting more games.
Brought on in the 62nd minute to rapturous applause in a straight swap for Ramsey, Ozil struggled to make much of an impact as Arsenal’s performance had largely fizzled out in the second half as the tie fell flat.
5. Hasenhüttl starting to struggle
Southampton didn’t look particularly strong at either end here. After Nathan Redmond missed the clear opportunity at the start, a defensive lapse gave Arsenal a chance to take the lead. Even for Arsenal’s second goal the away side could have taken up stronger positions.
A later opportunity for Lacazette, where the striker impossibly struck it over the bar from only yards out, was again the result of Southampton’s backline reacting slowly and failing to commit to challenges.
Now with only nine points from the last possible nine matches, the side are one point adrift of safety from the relegation zone in the Austrian’s first season at the club. Although his side have shown flashes of exciting football since the new regime, there’s no doubt that the pressure is beginning to pile up on the manager.
An FA Cup exit at the hands of Frank Lampard’s Derby County means that any silverware is out of their reach now and retaining their place in the league is the most that Hasenhüttl can hope for.