Things have been looking particular woe begone at Arsenal in recent weeks; whether it be the countless home defeats or the continued faith in rather disappointing players, it seems as though Arsenal can’t wait for the season to end.
It was business-as-usual for Arsenal as Mikel Arteta made a few wholesale changes to the team that was beaten by Burnley on Sunday. Nicolas Pépé returned after suspensions and replaced the seemingly undroppable Willian whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dani Ceballos stepped into replace the suspended Héctor Bellerín and Granit Xhaka respectively.
There was also a slight twinge if the heartstrings as former-Gunner Theo Walcott returned to his old stomping ground, though minus the 60,000 Arsenal fans who would undoubtedly sing his name as his name was called out by the stadium announcer.
However, the goodwill that Arsenal fans would likely have towards one of their former favourite sons would have evaporated in the eighteenth minute, when Walcott, clean-through on goal, chipped the ball over a grounded Bernd Leno and gave the away side the lead.
Hearts sank on the field and Arsenal subsequently spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. Walcott’s goal had happened as Arsenal had just tarted to gain a foothold in the game, but as is all too common with Arsenal now, the team’s confidence took a huge knock back and Arsenal had to slowly rebuild it again.
Though Arsenal created a few chances, they seemed unable to break through Southampton’s defences, who were happy to sit back and employ the low-block, a tactic that appears to be Arsenal’s kryptonite in recent months with the lack of any fully creative players in the squad.
In the second-half, Arsenal seemed more in control. Though not overtly threatening, there was still the danger that Arsenal’s quality, which despite being lacking in recent weeks, would show and sure enough, it did.
Bukayo Saka, easily Arsenal’s best player on the night ran through the smouldering Southampton midfield, before playing the ball into Eddie Nketiah, who laid off captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the Gabonese captain calmly slotted the ball into the far corner of the net.
However, whatever hopes Arsenal had of taking the lead were soon dashed as Arsenal encountered yet another red card. Gabriel Magalhães, who has been a rock in an admittedly porous backline in recent weeks received his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card for a foul on Theo Walcott.
From there, Arsenal were forced to defend what little they had recovered and on another night, Southampton may well have walked away with all three points, but courtesy of Nathan Redmond’s poor finishing and Southampton’s unwillingness to attack too heavily led to the game finishing with a point apiece. Even Arsenal came close to the end with Rob Holding’s looping header cannoning off the woodwork.
It was the end of yet another miserable performance from Arsenal who seemed to the architects of their own downfall.
Though Arsenal were hardly poor, they struggled, once again, to create any meaningful chances, leaving players like Aubameyang and Nketiah to feed off scraps, whereas Pépé was hardly involved at all.
The shot in the crowd last week of an Arsenal fan with his face mask over his eyes instead of watching the dross in front of him was potentially usurped as Technical Director Edu was shown showing his frustrations in the Director’s Box at the stadium with yet another rank amateur performance.
It is perhaps a testament to how poor Arsenal’s creativity is at the moment that the Brazilian announced publicly that Arsenal did not have a creative midfielder in the squad, comments that will have no doubt gone down like a cup of cold vomit in the Özil household.
Nevertheless, Arsenal’s creativity was not the only issue on the night. Yet another performance was punctured with ill-discipline and not just in the tackles. Wayward passing seems to have become a speciality under the once so well drilled Mikel Arteta formation and now Arsenal seem to have taken to fouling unceremoniously.
The last three red cards that Arsenal have received in the league have all broken Arsenal’s concentration. Pépé’s indiscretion at Leeds United led to Arsenal struggling to create down his flank, Granit Xhaka’s red card against Burnley on Sunday led to Arsenal failing to keep their heads and weather the storm and Gabriel Magalhães’ red card against Southampton meant that Arsenal, who were in the ascendancy at the time, were forced into a more defensive shape and conserve the few supplies they had.
WHile it would be unfair to suggest that this is a tactic directly handed out by Arteta, it does seem to represent a worrying trend as Mikel Arteta’s side is now responsible for 0.7% of the red cards ever shown in the Premier League’s 28-year-history.
A daunting week or so is ahead for Arsenal. A trip away to Everton is then followed by a League Cup Quarter-Final game against Manchester City and then followed by a Boxing Day game against Chelsea and then a trip to Brighton.
Though Arsenal will likely be buoyed by the news that Gabriel Martinelli has returned to action, it will likely be a few games before he returns and Arsenal will need to try and find more comfort in their performances than the return of a young Brazilian yet to establish himself in the first-team.
1.) Bernd Leno
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny
8.) Dani Ceballos (Willock 67’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Cédric Soares 85’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (David Luiz 65’)
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
23.) David Luiz
20.) Shkodran Mustafi
17.) Cédric Soares
28.) Joe Willock
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
1.) Alex McCarthy
2.) Kyle Walker-Peters
35.) Jan Bednarek
4.) Jannik Vestergaard
3.) Ryan Bertrand
17.) Stuart Armstrong (Redmond 63’)
8.) James Ward-Prowse
6.) Oriel Romeu
32.) Theo Walcott (Djenepo 63’)
9.) Danny Ings
10.) Che Adams
44.) Fraser Forster
5.) Jack Stephens
22.) Mohamed Salisu
27.) Ibrahima Diallo
12.) Moussa Djenepo
40.) Dan N’Lundulu
11.) Nathan Redmond