29 min: Kevin Towl writes in to note that Nketiah deserves credit for putting pressure on McCarthy, which is a fair point. “Credit for chasing lost causes,” writes Kevin of a quality that Arsenal have seldom shown lately.
28 min: With an exquisite piece of control Ings takes down a pass into the box and then flips the ball to Redmond, who smashes it across the face of goal. Armstrong lunges at it but can’t get a telling touch.
23 min: After Bellerin gives the ball away in the opposing half, Southampton attack the space behind him. Armstrong ultimately gets off his team’s first shot on target. All it does is give Martinez a nice easy taste of the action.
GOAL! Southampton 0-1 Arsenal (Nketiah 20)
A bizarre mistake by McCarthy gifts a goal to Arsenal. The goalkeeper ambled out of his box to receive a passback, then took a touch to control it before sidefooting a pass … straight to Nketiah! The striker, closing on in from about six yards away, accepts the present and lopes past the goofing keeper to roll the ball into the empty net. Did the heat get to the keeper? That was a real brain-melting moment. Is Arteta’s luck beginning to turn?
18 min: Ceballos flashes over a dangerous corner. Ward-Prowse, of all people, leaps high to head clear.
15 min: A reply of Aubemeyang’s shot shows that McCarthy got a tiny but possibly critical touch on it. If he had not done so, the shot might have gone into the net via the underside of the bar. Meanwhile, Mary Waltz is not dancing around the issue of David Luiz’s new contract. “Arteta is a good man, he will be a fine coach,” mails Mary. “But signing David Luiz to a new contract was a massive error. Yes he shows signs of brilliance in moments but he always has that moment where his brain shuts off. Arteta could have let him go and no one would have blamed him.” Arteta values David Luiz’s character and, also, if he let him go, what kind of replacement would Arsenal sign?
14 min: Ceballos dithers on the ball just inside his own half. Ings pinches it off him and scurries towards the Arsenal box, weaving his way into a shooting position. But Holding keeps track off him and blocks his shot.
12 min: A Southampton freekick from the left is cleared as far as Armstrong, who has a bang from nearly 30 yards. He strikes it powerfully but nowhere near the target.
10 min: A long, curling pass from Tierney in the left-back position gives Aubameyang something to chase. Of course he wins the race, leaving Saints’ defenders in the dust as he collects the ball and dashes into the box from the left. He shapes to curl towards the far corner with his right foot … McCarthy goes down … and the striker sidefoots a powerful shots over him … and onto the crossbar!
9 min: Good from Arsenal! A crisp passing move concludes with Xhaka sliding a pass through to Saka, who lays the ball across the face of goal from the left, leaving Pepe with a tap-in. But Saka was offside when he received the pass so there’s no score. Encouraging precision and movement from Arsenal, though. Apart from the offside, obviously.
7 min: Ceballos pounces on a mistake by McCarthy and feeds Aubameyang, who lashes off a shot from 20 yards … and an offside position. It wouldn’t have counted, but the keeper felt the need to atone for his error anyway and made the save.
6 min: Southampton have had most of the ball so far but Arsenal have kept a good shape and not ceded any openings. It’s all happening at a fairly sedate pace, which is probably to be expected with the heat.
4 min: Aubameyang works back diligently to nick the ball off Valery at the left-hand corner of the Arsenal box.
3 min: The home side have made the brighter start, without threatening. Arsenal haven’t pieced together any kind of passing sequence yet.
1 min: Southampton kick off. That means knocking the ball backwards for someone to boom a long diagonal pass towards the left-hand touchline. It’s what nearly everyone does.
Arsenal, dressed in a sunny all yellow kit, are full of smiles as they await kickoff. Certainly no sign of angst in their demeanour. Either they are confident or they’re not much bothered about the kick-around. We’ll soon find out which it is.
Weather check: It’s 30C at St Mary’s. The forecast says rain is due at some point in the coming hours but right now the sky is like postcard from the Caribbean.
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Southampton’s manager notes the intense heat on the south coast and declares: “the fitter team will win today.” If that’s true, a home win seems the smart bet (note: betting is not smart).
Arteta on Guendouzi’s abence
Asked why the feisty young Frenchman is not included today, Arteta says “It’s squad management. Squad management.” And then adds intriguingly: “Whatever internal issue we have, we deal with it privately.
As you can see from the lineups below, Arteta has made four alterations to the side that started the defeat to Brighton. Leno’s injury means Martinez gets the goes, while Xhaka’s recovery means Guendouzi can … have the evening off: he’s not even on the bench. But Kolasinac and Lacazette are, as they are replaced by Tierney and Nketiah. Ozil is back in the squad but only as an onlooker for the moment. Southampton, meanwhile, stick with the same side who thumped Norwich six days ago.
Southampton: McCarthy; Valery, Stephens, Bednarek, Bertrand; Armstrong, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg; Obafemi, Redmond, Ings.
Subs: Gunn, Walker-Peters, Vestergaard, Voskins, Romeu, Smallbone, Long, Tella, Adams
Arsenal: Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Ceballos, Xhaka; Pepe, Saka, Aubameyang; Nketiah
Subs: Macey, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Smith, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Ozil, Lacazette, Willock
Referee: C Kavanagh
A post-lockdown mid-table skirmish in oppressive heat does not sound like a must-watch, but this has the makings of a fascinating match. Southampton begin three points lower in the table but seems to be in a slightly better place than Arsenal insofar as they are edging their way to brighter days under a manager who knows what’s what. Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, is still trying to make sense of the puzzle that is Arsenal. That might not even be possible, but we can sure look for clues today.
Southampton resumed the season impressively by trouncing Norwich at Carrow Road last weekend, and they will be aiming to reproduce that form at St Mary’s, where they have struggled this season, which is why they have the worst home record in the Premier League. But Arsenal do not look like fearsome visitors – they have won only twice away all season and, of course, flopped on the south coast last weekend by losing in the last minute Brighton.
That defeat confirmed that Arteta is still far from knowing how to move forward with Arsenal, a team with lots of skill but a shortage of balance, creativity, gumption and a midfield, amongst other things. They’ve also been out of luck recently, with Bernd Leno’s injury against Brighton deprived him of another key player. It’s not always easy to know who is a key player for Arsenal these days: is Alexandre Lacazette? Is Nicolas Pépé? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? Mesut Ozil? How about Dani Ceballos, whose loan was extended this week? Or David Luiz, who signed a new contract on Wednesday? There are lots of questions about this Arsenal team. This is their latest chance to begin fleshing out convincing answers.
Let’s be having you!