Welcome back to the gripping, high tension of the Premier League. The sands were slipping away at the dog end of a match of helter-skelter chances, it was heading towards a draw, well into stoppage time, when Southampton’s José Fonte grappled with Olivier Giroud in the penalty area. Frankly, the pair had been at each other ever since the Frenchman had come on to the pitch. Penalty.
Santi Cazorla wanted it. So did Alexis Sánchez. Just to add to the nerve-shredding pressure of the moment, Laurent Koscielny had taken a kick to the face and required several minutes of treatment. The wait went on. Was there a winner in this game? Could Arsenal ensure they did not start the season by frittering away five points out of a possible six at home? Cazorla had sparkled all game, fighting for the right to dictate the game with imagination. He waited and waited. Then he waited for Fraser Forster to start his dive before planting his penalty down the middle for a valuable Arsenal victory.
With the early international break behind them and the belated transfer business settled, this felt like a season restart. It is not always the most straightforward issue for any team to find cohesion after the break, with players arriving back from their travels. As for integrating signings, Arsenal’s two new recruits were thrust into a start after only a handful of training sessions getting to know their new team-mates.
Lucas Pérez, the striker from Deportivo La Coruña, bustled up front, hungry for the ball. He offers a different focus to Giroud or Sánchez (both of whom started on the bench after the internationals) but unsurprisingly looks like he will need some time to click with the new players around him. Shkodran Mustafi slotted in at centre-back but also looks like he will benefit from a few more outings to find his Premier League rhythm.
Southampton have had an unconvincing start to life under Claude Puel, but began with an energy that unsettled Arsenal from the off. They pressed Arsenal, with Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond pushing up to form a front three with Jay Rodriguez, and the midfield scampering eagerly in determined support.
Early on Rodriguez looped a header over the bar. But Southampton really got under Arsenal’s skin in the 18th minute. A sharp move was interrupted when Redmond was clipped by Nacho Monreal as he shaped to shoot. The free-kick was positioned centrally in the D, and Tadic struck with expert dip. Petr Cech finger-tipped the ball on to the crossbar, and it bounced down, ricocheted off the goalkeeper’s back and in for a bizarre own goal. The travelling band of Southampton fans, without a great deal to celebrate yet this season, found full voice.
Arsenal’s home discomfort hung in the air. Having lost their opening game here in a turbulent 4-3 defeat by Liverpool, there was a keen awareness that it was imperative to step it up in terms of both effort and cohesion. What to do? How about a spectacular bicycle kick from a centre-half? That did the trick in style as Cazorla’s corner was bundled on by Francis Coquelin and Lucas, falling for Koscielny to audaciously finish in the manner of the kind of world class centre-forward Arsenal have supposedly been short of for years. It was a birthday goal to remember for the captain.
Puel introduced Shane Long, who caused nightmares for Arsenal when they played last Christmas, to try to inject some fresh momentum. Arsenal kept probing, though, with Cazorla and Mesut Özil finding more than enough creative touches. Turning those attacks into clear-cut chances or finding a clinical edge was the challenge.
Héctor Bellerín fizzed a shot across goal on the hour, and perhaps the fact the most dangerous moment for the 15 minutes of the second half came from a full-back was the sign for change. On came Giroud and Sánchez, a double substitution which came unusually early according to the Wenger substitutions manual.
Suddenly Southampton were away. Long skated into the box but steered wide. Back came Arsenal, and the sprightly Sánchez fired over, before Giroud slipped at the vital moment with the goal gaping, and then Monreal’s shot, aimed at the bottom corner, was deflected.
In search of a winner, Arsenal were threatened as Pierre-Emile Hojberg shot – Cech did well to kick away Long’s shot on the rebound. But Cazorla, after a masterclass, had the final word.
News Source TheGuardianNews