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Arsenal vs Southampton: Gunners running out of steam?

Despite a run of seven consecutive wins prior to last night’s match, Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Southampton did not come as a huge shock. Although they have done what they have had to in recent weeks, the signs that this was a team who’s title challenge is faltering have all been there. Encounters with West Ham United and Cardiff ended with the Gunners narrowly snatching victory in the dying moments, whilst away wins at Newcastle and Aston Villa required the type of desperate clinging on to withstand a late barrage more akin to a team fighting relegation than one challenging for the title. In addition to this, Arsene Wenger’s team have also been starting games very slowly and quite often it has taken until the second half for them to really get into their stride and secure the three points. Some pundits may argue that grinding out results whilst not playing particularly well is the mark of champions, but Arsenal’s crawl towards the finish line stands in stark contrast to the ominous way Manchester City seem to be cantering towards that same line.

Last night this tendency to start slowly finally caught up with them as Southampton stormed into a one goal lead by half time, which could easily have been more. Arsenal were sloppy in possession, slow to break forward and when they did they looked bereft of ideas in the final third. However, the main problem was a notable lack of energy in the midfield area that has drawn so much praise this season. The central midfield pairing of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini were lacklustre and struggled to get a foothold in a first half that largely passed them by as their passivity, both going forward and defensively, enabled the Saints lively midfield to dominate the game. They were an on the field example of a team that is running out of steam. If Arsenal are to sustain their challenge these two cannot start together again. The youthful exuberance and dynamism, so abundant in Southampton’s performance, was clearly lacking with the absence of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere in the Arsenal midfield. Injuries to these two left Wenger with little other option, and the consequent selection of Arteta and Flamini together in midfield clearly suggests this may be a campaign that is starting to take its toll on a thin Arsenal squad, as many pundits have suggested would happen. Nowhere was this fatigue more evident than in Flamini’s frustrated two footed lunge on Morgan Schneiderlin late on, that earned him a straight red card and a 4 match ban.

There were positives to take from the game for Arsenal, most notably that Olivier Giroud, who again found the net with a Thierry Henry-esque flick, seems to have rediscovered his goal scoring touch after enduring a somewhat barren spell in recent months. Whether he can turn this into a consistent goal threat for the remainder of the season remains to be seen, but his form will be vital if Arsenal are to maintain ground at the top of the league. The opening period of the second half, in which Arsenal scored both their goals, showed what this team is capable of when they play at their devastating, attacking best but, just as in the first half, they failed to introduce any sustained intensity to their game and the hosts quickly re-established parity, with the Gunners tiredness again coming to the fore. This is a squad that needs reinforcements but if, as he continues to state, Wenger will make no moves in the transfer window he must make better use of his squad. Where is the logic in bringing on one of your highest paid players in Lukas Podolski in the 89th minute? The German needs to play more games.

Yet this is not to take anything away from the Saints, who outplayed the best team of the last 12 months in the Premier League and deserved more than a point for their performance. They are a credit to English football, and in captain and goalscorer Adam Lallana they have a player who simply must start for England in Brazil this summer. After their blistering start to the season, their campaign has tailed off somewhat since the start of December but this may be the performance to give it new life. Previous talk of a top four finish has rightly disappeared but there is no reason why they cannot claim a top 8 finish and crown their season off with an FA Cup final.

Next up for Arsenal is a home game against Crystal Palace that now takes on massive importance. They need to produce a performance and result worthy of a title winning side against a team that are steadily improving under the management of Tony Pulis. It is past time that Arsenal sent out a statement with regards to their title ambitions with a resounding victory. If they can do that and get back on track, this will give them much needed confidence before the big games start in February and March.

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  1. King

    31 January, 2014 at 18:18

    Regarding Adam lallana, it’s too much to say that he MUST start for England in Brazil. Yes it’s true that he’s a wonderful player on his day, able to influence and change a game with his dribbling skills and creativity. However being decisive in a league game is totally different as to a World Cup game. He MIGHT be good against lesser teams like Costa Rica, Japan, etc. but when facing bigger teams like Portugal, France or even Mexico, do you really expect him to decide the game? He can be a good squad player for England, used as an impact player or sort, but to be a MUST in England’s starting lineup he’s still someway off it.

  2. Alex Jackson

    5 March, 2014 at 12:28

    Hi, sorry for the late response I haven’t been on for a while. I take your point about him perhaps not dominating a game against top class opposition but what players do we have that will? We might have players who have a good 15-20 minutes, like Townsend, who run, run, run, and shoot. But they are not the type of players who win tournaments anymore. No matter who we select we are not going to win this world cup but we need a platform to build upon. We need to adopt a new system, with creative players, as Germany have done and Lallana is one of the few players who is technically gifted as well as a goal threat. Obviously he is not in the same league but his style of play reminds me much of Iniesta and these are the types of players we need to be encouraging and developing. Thanks for your comment.

  3. terry

    18 March, 2014 at 01:39

    Another very well written article, and yes I agree we need to adopt a new system incorporating exciting young players like Adam Llallana.

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