27th December 2015: A bad Boxing Day at the office

It’s dark, dreary and overcast in my part of London today, a bit like the mood among Gooners everywhere after we lost 4-0 at Southampton last night.

Having won so impressively against Manchester City on Monday night, the same starting line-up somehow contrived to collapse against a physical Saints side who certainly enjoyed a large slice of festive luck in securing their win, but in the end, ran out consummately comfortable victors.

The first goal was undoubtedly a brilliant long-range strike, executed with text-book technique, as their right-back Cuco Martina met a dropping ball on the half-volley with the outside of his boot and sent it arcing inside Petr Cech’s far post. It was a bit like Thierry Henry’s record-breaking (or equaling?) goal at Sparta Prague all those years ago, only further out and far more wind-assisted.

I felt the blustery conditions at St Mary’s played a pivotal part in our abject performance overall, along with a slippery pitch which seemed to have been deliberately left unmowed for Arsenal’s visit. It was more difficult than usual to weight passes and the aerial side of the game became far more unpredictable and challenging. That said, Southampton used the conditions in their favour, whilst we failed to adapt.

They shot from long-range and made the most of set-pieces whereas we didn’t take enough pot-shots in conditions that were clearly going to cause goalkeepers difficulties. When we did swing decent deliveries into the box, Olivier Giroud (very early on in the game), and then Theo Walcott, lacked accuracy and conviction when afforded uncontested headers at goal.

Their second goal arrived ten minutes after the interval and although we should have defended far better as a team, Shane Long slyly tripped Laurent Koscielny in the build-up to his his first goal of the game, which allowed him to tap home unmarked at the far post from Sadio Mane’s cross.

Southampton scored a third with about 20 minutes to go as Jose Fonte powered home a header from a corner that should actually have been a goal-kick, but also better defended by Arsenal. Then right at the death, Long grabbed his second and Southampton’s fourth to complete a miserable day for the Gunners.

I’m loathe to draw too many conclusions from the game because in my opinion, although we performed very, very poorly both individually and collectively, we were also extremely unfortunate to be victims of officiating errors which directly led to the hosts first three goals (there was an offside in the build-up to Southampton’s first).

Our squad is obviously stretched to it’s limit in central midfield and we’re also currently missing the irreplaceable brilliance of Alexis Sanchez, so there are mitigating circumstances, even if the same players have produced far better in our last few games.

Mohamed Elneny, the Basel midfielder said to be set for a move to Arsenal in early January, will have a medical in Paris on Wednesday according to reports today, so that transfer will at least give us one more option in midfield if it goes through. But with Danny Welbeck’s return date still uncertain, perhaps we also need to seriously consider another striker purchase, even if it’s a bit of a punt. Alexandre Pato at around £15m seems a no brainer, for instance.

But for tomorrow’s game against Bournemouth at Emirates stadium, we have to go with what we have, hope yesterday’s defeat was merely an anomaly and we can get back to winning ways immediately. With Leicester hosting Manchester City on Tuesday, we also have a second opportunity to go top of the table in 48 hours. If we don’t do it this time, perhaps then it might be time to start worrying, just a little, about our title credentials.

That said, despite the defeat at Southampton, we’re second in the table and have as good a chance as any of being crowned champions in May. I mean, taking into account the fact that Tottenham and Liverpool are sh*t, and the shocking state of Manchester United and Chelsea, I’d be amazed if the title is won by anybody other than Arsenal or Manchester City. It’s worth remembering then, that right now, we’re ahead of City in the standings.

See you next week.

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