Arsenal 1-2 Southampton
Arsenal were dumped out of the Capital One Cup last night by a spirited, determined and well organised Southampton side.
As always, Wenger made several changes to the side for this League Cup tie and the team were duly made to pay by a near full strength Southampton.In goal, David Ospina made his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt since his summer move from Nice. The Colombian made a few good saves, denying Steven Davis when he was through on goal in the first half and then again in the second half from a close range effort, but also looked nervous and unsure at times, especially with his kicking as Southampton pressed high up the pitch. Ospina could have done better for the visitors’ second goal, as Nathaniel Clyne’s long range effort flew into the middle of the goal, although the goalkeeper may have been slightly unsighted and saw the ball late, giving him no time to react. In any case, the Gunners really should have rushed out to deny the right back time and space to take a touch before unleashing his shot.
In front of Arsenal’s debutant goalkeeper, Wenger fielded a vastly inexperienced defence, admitting afterwards that Mertesacker and Gibbs are nursing slight knocks which restricted them to a role on the bench for this game. Francis Coquelin, a defensive midfielder who can play at full back, was deployed at left back and had a good game, with the largely anonymous Podolski in front of him, rarely offering any defensive help. Alongside Coquelin, the highly rated Isaac Hayden played at centre back with Calum Chambers and both performed well given their relative inexperience and the pressure placed on them by Southampton’s attacking players, who pressed the Gunners relentlessly throughout the game. Hector Bellerin came in at right back once again, following his debut against Borussia Dortmund. The young Spaniard offers a great deal going forward, with his pace and assuredness on the ball, almost setting up Sanchez in the second half with a good ball into the box, however he does tend to get caught out with his defensive positioning which is slightly worrying with Debuchy now out for three months. The lack of experience in defence was not the reason why Arsenal lost this game, but it did serve to highlight the ridiculousness of Wenger’s decision not to sign at least one more defender during the transfer window as the Gunners are desperately short of cover at he back.
The home side lost this game as a result of the performances from their more experienced players. Abou Diaby made his first start for the Gunners in 19 months and did show glimpses of the great talent he undoubtedly possess during the early stages but as the game wore on the Frenchman understandably tired and could not provide the necessary drive from midfield. In fact the entire Arsenal midfield had poor games, with Thomas Rosicky enduring one of his worst performances in a red and white shirt. The Czech international was made captain for the night but let the side down badly with a needless lunge on Mane in the area, which gave the referee no choice but to point to the spot, allowing Tadic to drill his penalty down the middle to restore parity. Rosicky never seemed to recover from this moment of madness and his passing was particularly erratic, giving the ball away time and time again as Arsenal struggled to build any real momentum to get themselves back in the game following Clyne’s thunderous strike.
Podolski was just as disappointing, playing on the left flank the German didn’t really offer anything to the team from either a defensive or attacking point, missing his one chance on goal in the first half, firing an effort at the near post for Forster to make a routine save. This was a chance for those on the fringes of the first eleven to stake a claim for first team selection, but they failed to grasp this opportunity and in many respects the manager may well question the mental attitude of these players.
On the opposite flank to Podolski was Joel Campbell, making his first start for the Gunners and attempting to catch the eye of his manager. Unfortunately Campbell seemed to be trying too hard to impress. On several occasions he performed one trick too many and was dispossessed or attempted an intricate pass which wasn’t really available, again surrendering possession. For a player such as Campbell, who has barely had a sniff at first team action, it is understandable that he would want to show fans and manager alike just what he can do, but the Costa Rican would have been far more effective had he just kept things simple.
Jack Wilshere returned to the starting line-up, in the number 10 role behind lone striker Sanchez. However, with the rest of the midfield not enjoying great games and struggling to get into the match in the face of Southampton’s excellent organisation and pressing, Wilshere was forced to drop deeper and deeper in search of the ball and therefore couldn’t really have a positive effect on the game.
Up top Sanchez did as much as he could, despite being starved of any real service. The Chilean will always run himself into the ground for his club, chasing lost causes time and time again which has really endeared him to the Emirates faithful. Sanchez also has great quality and can turn a game in the blink of an eye with a moment of brilliance. He has already showcased this trait in the short time he has been at the club with his sumptuous volley against Manchester City and yesterday produced a stunning free kick to give the Gunners the lead, directing the ball right into the top corner of the net with Forster rooted to the spot.
Unfortunately, Arsenal couldn’t build on their lead and shot themselves in the foot with poor mistakes for both of Southampton’s goals. Wenger will be most disappointed with his experienced players as the Gunners enjoyed a great deal of possession, particularly in the second half, but failed to create any real goal scoring opportunities with Forster rarely tested. As a squad they must now put this disappointment behind them, regroup and get themselves ready for a fierce North London derby on Saturday.