Instead of throwing away a two goal lead in a bitterly disappointing late collapse, Arsenal decided to change things up and give Southampton a two goal lead right from the start. Aaron Ramsdale got things started with a crazy pass in the general direction of Oleksandr Zinchenko. It was easily picked off by Carlos Alcaraz who waltzed past Thomas Partey and fired across the goal past the outstretched hand of the aforementioned Ramsdale.
Sensing that maybe they could get a result and save their season, Southampton decided to press their luck – literally. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, what’s been happening over the last few months is that teams are pressing Arsenal in possession and Arsenal are not responding well to that pressure – mentally or tactically. Like I’ve seen over the last few weeks, the opposition managers have decided to cut off the passing lanes wide on both sides of the pitch. This usually results in a battle or interception near the mid-way line. Which is how Southasmpto scored their third.
Southampton overloaded the right-side wide area and a panic pass to Partey (who ran like a clydesdale in treacle all afternoon) couldn’t catch up to the pass. Once he was so far out of possession there was a gaping hole in midfield. But that hole there still didn’t really let them score, that took a brain fart by Gabriel who was caught ball watching as Theo Walcott stole in behind him and scored with his first touch. It was a goal borne on the back of a bit of tactical pressure and a lot of mental pressure.
Zinchenko rallied the troops and called a team meeting. I’m sure he told them that they can still win this, and he was right, it was clear to see that Arsenal were going to be able to score three goals and possibly win this match. And right away, they got stuck in – Martinelli in particular started driving at the Southampton defense, time and again getting into great positions to cross or set up a shot.
The assist for Arsenal’s first came from the other side of the pitch, however, as Bukayo Saka rinsed his marker and got to the bye-line. It’s no surprise that the man on the end of that cross was Gabriele Martinelli who pumped the ball home off the volley.
From that point forward Arsenal were in the ascendancy. Arteta made a tactical change and had Partey drop into the back line to start plays, this opened things up and made it difficult for them to just press our wings. We were progressing the ball much easier now and I felt incredibly confident that we’d get the two goals needed to win the match. Martinelli was a terror and Gabriel Jesus kept popping up in dangerous positions. Southampton barely had even a look in at the Arsenal goal until they won a corner in the 65th minute. So, despite some rather glaring misses I felt confident of Arsenal getting a result.
Then Southampton scored.
Arsenal aren’t bad at set plays. They have scored 12 goals from set pieces (3rd in the league) and have conceded 7 (7th in the league). This isn’t a weakness under Arteta the way it was under Wenger but man, you will not see an easier set play goal than the one Southampton scored. Perhaps it’s Ward-Prowse and his extra flat delivery but Arsenal had no chance to get to the first ball and Zinchenko was caught ball-watching as Caleta-Car scored the easiest headed goal of his life. Zin has got to shield the man at the very least and possibly even make a jump to put the attacker off the ball. But he didn’t and they scored a third.
To Arsenal’s credit, they didn’t give up. I gave up at that point, but they didn’t. Arteta put on Bossard for Vieira, who had another dreadful game. I know he’s young and learning how to be part of the Arteta system but Vieira is almost always anonymous in his games. He does pop up once in a while with an assist but for the vast majority of his time on the pitch he’s not doing anything. It’s like he has an invisibility cloak. This isn’t a scapegoat of Vieira for this result, just an observation. We often talk about the “drop off” from Saliba to Holding and it’s a fair criticism but we don’t seem to mention the same or worse drop whenever Vieira is asked to play (for Xhaka and especially for Odegaard) so I’m mentioning it now.
With Trossard on the pitch Arsenal just started hammering at their goal wall. It wasn’t a question for me of if but when we would score the 2nd goal. Unfortunately it took far too long to come and it took a bit of a thunder strike from Ødegaard to get the breakthrough. From there it was a frenzy of activity from Arsenal. And a nutmeg pass, nutmeg shot, save block, and finally the third was poked home by Saka.
It’s a bitterly disappointing result (are there other types of disappointment? Sweet? Salty? Sour? Umami?) but of course the season’s not over. These sorts of things happen in football and especially in a run up to a championship. Let’s not forget that the first title that Man City purchased was won on the final day, with the final kick of the season. So, until it’s over, it’s not over (for me).
But I don’t want to tell you how to feel about football or this season. If you feel like the season is over and it’s all shit, I get that. That reminds me of Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch. He was so incredibly negative about Arsenal in that 1989 season, complaining that we’d thrown it away and even going so far as to not want to watch the final game. But in the end, he celebrated. He celebrated so much that he wrote THE book about being an Arsenal (I’d go so far as to say it’s the definitive book about being a sports fan) supporter.
If you’re someone who only wants to support the team, I also get that. That reminds me of Maria Petri. She was the ultimate positive fan, never once criticizing the team (according to legend) and always cheering on the players. Ian Wright posted a video today saying pretty much the exact same thing. These folks are also wonderful to me, because I can’t really get into that headspace.
But what I will say is that telling other people how to be a “good” supporter or that your way is “the only logical one” doesn’t seem to do any good. Being a football supporter involves an incredible array of feelings. Some people cried at the 3-3 yesterday, me I was completely unfazed. Does that seem crazy to you? Probably. But that’s the reaction I had. You telling me I’m weird or wrong doesn’t change that for me. I’m sure there’ll be a game later on where I’m more upset than you are.
And one last thing on this. We all seem to have gotten to the point where we accept that the players and the managers have certain reactions to the game. I’ve seen it said thousands of times that the “players are going to have an emotional reaction” and that we should accept that. Well, the fans are also going to have an emotional reaction – and it might not be the one you want, like when Xhaka stormed off the pitch telling the fans to fuck off – you might consider just letting them have their reaction. And honestly, if someone is bothering you? Just disengage. Maybe come back later and engage with them and tell them it bothered you. Or don’t, just block, ignore, find someone else who matches your emotional color better. There are a shitload of ways to be a supporter and the good news is that there’s a blog/twitter/youtube/tiktok for every single expression.
On a positive note, with the point, Arsenal can say that they have qualified for the Champions League next season and we can celebrate St. Totteringham’s day. It’s like a trophy.