Arsenal run out of gas against Southampton

In my notes for today’s 1-1 draw against Southampton I have two salient observations. The first is simply “wow”, written in the 10th minute, right after Granit Xhaka scored a cracking goal on the half-volley. The other is “Arsenal created just one shot” written in the 95th minute and referencing the final 30 minutes of the game. Of course a lot happened in the previous 85 minutes but in a way, those two quotes sum up the action: Arsenal started well, Hasenhuttl made a change, Arsenal struggled to get into the game, they scored an well worked equalizer, and Arsenal finished up as a damp squib.

The game started perfectly. Arsenal pressured them high up the pitch. Arsenal dominated possession high in the opposition half. And Arsenal created chances for the forwards and midfielders. Granit Xhaka in particular was spectacular in this opening period. Everything good went through him and he got his much deserved goal in the 10th minute.

Bukayo Saka played a back heel to Benjamin White, who overlapped and then put in a cross. Xhaka took the shot off the half volley, with his chocolate leg, and blasted the ball into the top of the net. It was a perfect goal.

Hasenhuttl made a change, dropping from a back four to a back five in order to counter Arsenal’s attacking five. Arteta seemed to have no answer to this new defensive formation and from the 12th to the 35th minute there were only three total shots and just one for Arsenal. It was a decent chance for Jesus, and he struck it hard and low, though the replay suggests he would have been called offside had he scored.

Southampton for their part created the majority of their chances off corners. And they had a clear plan for their corners, perhaps seeking to exploit a weakness they had seen on tape. Every corner was an inswinger by Ward Prowse, Ramsdale was crowded in the box, and it looked like what they were trying to do was just ugly up the goal mouth in order to score.

Jim Proudfoot mentioned that Arsenal had been practicing against this tactic in the warmups with Ramsdale practicing his punches under pressure in particular. So, it’s no surprise, then, that Arsenal dealt with this tactic easily.

One tactic that Arsenal didn’t practice against was the Southampton holding and pulling and the referee refusing to call anything. They also didn’t practice against the referee giving Saka a yellow card for “diving” after Saka had been clearly barged into. Maybe we should practice it more? We could have also practiced letting Jesus get elbowed and hit, letting Jesus have Caleta-Car draped all over him like a security blanket, and letting Lyanco get away with headbutting and choking Nketiah. I just want to mention all of these things because it’s possible for Arsenal to have a bad day and also for the referee to have a bad day.

I also point it out because Arsenal are top of the League and the unfortunate reality is that we now have a target on our backs and teams are trying to rough us up. This is the second team in a row to deploy the dark arts against Arsenal and I don’t expect that to stop any time soon. I also don’t expect the referees to get involved. This season in particular they have a mandate to “not get involved” (unless it’s to chalk off a goal against Man U) and I’ve seen a lot of weird shit allowed that wasn’t allowed last season. People talk about consistency but for me I’d like it if the FA could just stop changing the interpretations every fucking year. Give us a few years of one type of play, thanks.

Despite the refereeing, Arsenal probably should have scored a 2nd goal. Jesus had a one-v-one with the keeper and he seemed to slow down just enough to allow Elyounoussi get in a good block, blowing our best chance of the game. Tierney was also fouled by Elyounoussi – struck in the throat – and the referee didn’t call anything. And Arsenal finished the game with Nketiah getting a good chance but Southampton got in a slight block to push the ball wide.

A few trends seem to be taking hold and they are things that many of us pointed out at the start of the season. The first is that the number 5 had a stinker of a game, especially toward the end. Arsenal have needed backup in that position for years. I know you’ll say “Elneny” or “Sambi” but neither player is at the right level or the right mindset to do what 5 does. The other problem which we have mentioned before is that Gabriel Jesus has a lot of great qualities and finishing isn’t one. He has always been a player who misses a lot of chances and now with a career high number of chances, is still missing a lot of chances. It hasn’t hurt us in other games but today he missed two big chances (again, one of them would have been offside) and the other problem is that his backup isn’t scoring either. We also have a problem with left back. I thought that buying Zinchenko would help us there but again, injuries and fatigue are causing us to play Tomiyasu out of position.

And finally, the Arsenal attacking five system has benefits but we need some backup plans to get through tough games like this one today. I think Hasenhuttl did well with his tactics and that Arteta showed a bit of frustration and never seemed to get a handle on the game.

All of that isn’t to say that Arsenal suck all the sudden but rather that this is looking like the blip that many of us worried about this season. It’s also the reason why some of us think that Arsenal are unlikely to win the League. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the football! Have fun, ignore pundits like me and everyone else, we are all just sour old men who have been traumatized by past failures (“every defeat is like a scar in the heart!”). These are just my observations.

I’m hopeful that the club can address some of these depth problems in the January transfer window, get us another midfielder who can play deep and dictate play for Arsenal. And I also have a lot of faith in Arteta in terms of his work rate and understanding of the game. He will watch this tape and know what we did wrong and he will have plans for how to deal with it in the future.

And Arsenal are still top of the League. We just clearly need to rest some of these players in the Europa League matches coming up.



  1. Great analysis again Tim – Gunners looking leggy, but the officiating was at times ridiculous – hoping for the mystical next #5 signing

  2. Re-checked the rules – Arsenal are in fact allowed 5 subs like other teams. This was news to me.

    Anyway, agree that the blip was inevitable. Hope we put six past Forest but wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a scrappy 2-1.

  3. Good write up Tim. Bodo, Leeds, PSV, and now Southampton have been games we have played below our standards. We are already in a blip, and hope it’s just a blip. Funny enough, the substitutions made us worse. Unless Odegaard is out of it, I would rather ride and die on his abilities than our substitutes.

    1. Vieira is not there yet, is he. Lightweight, struggling to influence games. Not unexpected.

      1. Yeah, can’t win a duel of any kind. But, he is amazing in certain offensive aspects. Arteta probably should have had them both in the game if he really wanted to go for a win.

        1. I understood why he did it but I really felt Vieira should have replaced Partey instead of Ode, with Xhaka dropping back into the pivot. I think we lost our hold in the final 3rd possession even more with that sub. At 1-1 I understand being more conservative but maybe that’s a takeaway on the tactical/managerial side. Vieira and Ode are actually not that similar. The former is the better striker of the ball and has more end product hit the latter controls the play and knits things together to a greater extent. You really need both, not one or the other.

  4. Look, we had a right to be largely leggy and off our game and win. We should have won that game not because we should have played better, but because we should have had a penalty for when Jesus got manhandled in the box, we should have had numerous dangerous fouls for all their shirt pulling on Saka and Jesus, we should have had a red when Jesus was elbowed in the back.

    So I don’t care that we looked leggy, that Partey had a stinker, that Ode was largely anonymous again. I don’t care because with a competent/unbiased referee we go 2-0 up, and then assuming all the incidents play out the same we play the second half against 10 men and can take our foot off the gas a bit.

    Were we sloppy and a bit shit? Yes. Have we looked a bit tired for a while, but gotten away with it? Yes. Arteta can say all he wants about 70 games, but physical and mental fatigue is real and he can’t No True Scotsman it away. And while I think playing so many first teamers against PSV in midweek was a mistake, I don’t think that’s why we lost. It’s because the ref was trash. I honestly think Liz Truss would’ve done a better job. And it’s painfully familiar.

  5. This team (and Arteta) have come a long way, but we really are a first 11 squad. Arteta’s tenure has been a series of finding something that works and then sticking to it until well. after it has stopped working. He needs to find out to keep up this year’s success, but utilize the squad better.

    A couple thoughts on the offensive squad 1) The obvious impact sub, ESR, is unavailable, and 2) Eddie seems to need a run of games to get up to speed.

    The ref was poor, but we are top of the league for a bit longer.

  6. first, arsenal’s best right back is takehiro tomiyasu. second, arsenal’s best left back is kieran tierney; a better defender than zinchenko. third, tierney is a better left back than benjamin white is a right back. why does arteta persist with ben white playing ahead of kieran tierney? is he trying to help white make an argument for england’s world cup squad? is he trying to justify the ridiculous money arsenal paid for him? what gives?

    all of this is to say i believe that the goal southampton scored was a result of a right back trying to play left back. tomi simply didn’t develop the situation well. i believe the decision to play tomi at left back to thwart the salah threat against liverpool was good. it’s the same with thwarting the raphina threat against leeds back in the spring. however, persisting with tomi at left back is less than ideal; it stifles the arsenal attack and this is more pertinent when you consider that arsenal really needed a second goal to kill the game yesterday.

    as for partey, arsenal are missing elneny. going into the season, i believed that partey-elneny-albert was adequate. of the three, lokonga is more a developmental player and elneny was the true backup. we’ve missed elneny’s sword, especially yesterday. i have little doubt arteta would have had no problem bringing on elneny with partey playing the way he had in the second half. albert simply hasn’t displayed the level of ability adequate to justify moving partey to the bench with the game on the line.

    1. Agree on Tomi. Tierney even said that Arteta told him it was tactical when he started there vs Pool. I’m not sure why that has persisted, because while Tomi is a very strong defender on both sides you could see our attack was lacking.

    2. Your first paragraph is pretty much spot on, IMHO. I believe the reason MA is playing Ben White in the right back position because he is HIS player for whom he paid an obscene amount of money (I’m still seething at 50mil price tag when we already had Saliba who didn’t have to go out on loan again). I don’t mind White but I don’t think he shines as an RB. And Tomiyasu is getting pretty much wasted on the left because of that. Personally, I think Ben White is a decent defender so he should be played as a center back. Tierney (or Zinchenko when fit) – White – Saliba – Tomiyasu is probably our strongest back 4, and that’s what I would love to see. Gabriel is alright but he’s got a bit of a Mustafi in him every now and then.

      1. Seems bad timing to criticise the deployment of White, who after all supplied the assist for our only goal. But i still agree. Kieran seems to be paying for Arteta’s seeming determination to play White at all costs. Tomi was exceptional against Liverpool, but the recent goals have all come from his side.

        Overall, this isnt a bad result. This is Saints at their ground against Arsenal FC. They tend to play well there against us.

        And it mitigation, former ref Mark Halsey wrote in The Sun that the ref got 2 big calls wrong, and one of them was potentially game defining. Clear foul in the box on Jesus, and we may have gone in 2-0 at the break. The Saka booking was also a bad call, according the Halsey.

        Jesus isnt a 30-a-season man, but he creates plenty for others and is busy. How we could use the late-arrive threat of Emile Smith Rowe to freshen things up. It’ll be a while before he’s back from surgery, though, December at the earliest.

        I like Ode’s knit play, but his finishing at the moment lacks conviction.

        We’re doing far better than I expected, and took a point from a traditionally tough fixture. Im not terribly torn up about it.

        All I’d say that this is the 2nd straight game in which an away side adjusted at halftime and came hard at us, and we didn’t seem to have answers. Almost seems as if we need 2 or 3 early goals to settle games down, if not settle them.

        1. Ode did bang one home with authority from Martinelli’s pullback. Too bad the ball had gone out of play. I like that he learned his less on about not pulling the trigger earlier this season and will now shoot if he gets an opening. That in turn will open up his passing angles as opponents have to think about both.

      1. Can you explain this stat a bit? Is it like WOR in baseball? I’m curious about both the methodology and how they value a given pass.

  7. Teams have always tried to rough us up ever since I became a supporter. Henry glided through such shithousery and Vieira and Bergkamp gave as good as they got.

    This side has the mettle but perhaps not quite the stamina. I love the throwback memories of my 1Nil handle, but a goal a game ain’t gonna do it.

      1. By the letter of the law the referee was correct, Saka was trying to gain an unfair advantage by exaggerating the contact he received. He does get barged into but he also throws his standing leg out in response. It’s just that you so seldom see that punished with a yellow card even though it happens several times each game. It was just that Saka was in the penalty area and the referee had a great angle on it (and Saka is an Arsenal player, har har). He just needs to make it look more convincing like Bernardo Silva’s masterful dive against, who was it, Brighton?

        The Walcott one though was one of the worst dives I’ve seen.

    1. That stuff makes me uncomfortable because a lot of those are pretty normal calls for this season in the Premier League.

      1. ha! wanna hear mine? that unai guy was awful, full stop! he played cowardly football that failed to maximize the talents he had at arsenal.

        can’t speak on the creativity of that “reinterpretation” but that sounds an awful lot like my initial interpretation. it wasn’t that long ago.

        1. It’s true he wasn’t backed and that he walked into an impossible situation. It’s also true he didn’t know what his best team was or how he wanted to play so he fell back on functional football. In fairness Mikel did the same at first. I think the difference between them is Unai is not capable of the type of football Mikel has us playing now. There was no plan, no vision, no unity. Only some of that is his fault. I always thought his greatest shortcoming was as a motivator and communicator. Always gave me Villas Boas vibes.

  8. Yeah I think you sum it up well Tim. Arteta and Ben White were both keen to avoid blaming fatigue, though it was inevitably a factor. It’s a factor in obvious ways like when Partey stopped giving Saliba passing angles around Aribo because he wanted to take a break from running. He was gassed and that was very obvious. I also think it’s a factor in more subtle ways like finishing and first touch. I think your form matters so much whenever you try to strike a ball with precision, and fatigue just makes those extra little movements a bit less precise. I know they’re different sports but this applies for sure when I’ve played golf or tennis or basketball, even ultimate frisbee. Your body shape and balance are everything when it comes to the perfect swing or throw. Then there is the mental aspect. Sometimes a whole team can get in their heads about finishing and it’s a collective anxiety that the fans also feel and reflect back. It can become an unhealthy cycle and we are near to just that at the moment.

    Arteta and White also both highlighted sloppiness as a key factor and I have to say I agree. Scott over on Arseblog news posted in his by the numbers piece that our goal threat created and conceded are a league best when the game state is even, but mid table when we are leading by a goal. This matches what I’ve observed anecdotally and have been banging on about for a while now. We become passive with a lead, we let other teams back in the game and it’s finally come back to bite us. Hopefully it’s a wake up call: we are not done at 1-0. Press your advantage home, literally, get to 2-0, then you can sit back a bit. At 1-0 the other team won’t feel defeated and a fluke goal can come from anywhere, like it did at Villa and vs Fulham.

    While we are on the topic of Benjamin White, I will point out that he has been one of our highest performers this season and is in the team fully on merit. Tomi started the season injured but BW made that spot his own because he is quick enough, strong enough and technical enough for the role. He gives his all in every match and by the way has also managed to avoid major errors with or without the ball so far this season. He also provides an effective attacking overlap and can be trusted to maintain possession against pressure even in the final 3rd AND play CB in a back 4. How many players in world football can do all of that? Not many. Off the top of my head, that list goes like this: David Alaba, Lisandro Martinez, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Benjamin White. Two of them play for Arsenal! (I don’t include Kyle Walker or Reece James because I don’t see them playing in a back 4 as traditional CBs)

    1. I wonder though if the dropping off after a lead is intentional, or if Arsenal’s MO is to bust a gut in the opening minutes to score and after that it’s just impossible to keep up the intensity. Kind of like how Barca couldn’t dominate Arsenal for the entire match too in the past…

      1. I think it has to be. The pattern has repeated itself too often. The theory is good as long as we are controlling the game but that sort of thing builds belief in the other team and makes it harder in some ways. The balance has to be better.

    2. Doc, Carvajal and Militao would like a word. And that’s just one club, mind. That’s not even considering Cancelo, Pavard and Tripper, who’s been excellent for Newcastle.

      White isnt getting into Southgate’s squad as an RB ahead of either Walker or Trippier. TAA has probably fallen out of contention.

      Your list needs revision, to say the least.

      1. … and Reece James of Chelsea probably/arguably offers more attacking overlap threat than Ben. Ben is the better defender. Tomi too.

        Look, I like our players, Ben and Tomi. Mikel should probably be ruthless with one of them.

      2. My list isn’t one of the best right backs but of the best right backs who can also play as a central defender.

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