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.