Football Features

Southampton 1-1 Arsenal: Saints follow in Red Devils’ footsteps

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:15, 23 October 2022

Arsenal saw their Premier League lead cut after snatching a 1-1 draw from the jaws of victory at Southampton this afternoon.

Granit Xhaka, a villain once upon a time among the Gunners faithful, scored the game’s opening goal before Stuart Armstrong brilliantly equalised against the run of play. Following yesterday’s result at the Ethiad, it means Arsenal, who are seeking to end a 19-year title drought, now hold a two-point lead over Manchester City heading into the next round of fixtures.

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Things began ominously when Xhaka, a reluctant scorer, emphatically put the visitors in front. His lack of putting the ball into the net has truthfully been due to several defensive positions he’s undertaken since joining from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2015; to say the 30-year-old former skipper is thriving in his new role under Mikel Arteta would be an understatement, if anything it compliments current captain Martin Ødegaard — operating in a number 10 role — thus introducing a new dimension to Arsenal’s play though deliberate given their head coach. “The positions Xhaka and Odegaard are taking up are causing Southampton so many problems. It’s reminiscent of what Pep [Guardiola] does when he had David Silva and [Kevin] De Bruyne,” Jamie Redknapp commented on Sky Sports.

Xhaka, simply put, is what many would describe a good old-fashioned, robust box-to-box midfielder. A physical presence in his own half — breaking up attacks as well as starting them — but more than ever, by striking the right balance between being reactive and proactive, he’s a threat in the opposition half. In other words, finishing those attacks off. He’s now one strike away from matching a season-best league total. Today’s effort was Xhaka’s third in 11 league appearances which are as many as he’s produced across the last three seasons combined. He previously managed four across 29 outings during the 2018/19 campaign. In fact, since turning professional at boyhood club FC Basel, over a decade ago, he’s never managed to exceed four league goals in a single campaign.

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But what makes this present Arsenal team good, it’s a team effort. Coming into today’s showdown on the south coast they had kept more clean sheets (four) and conceded fewer goals (three) away from home than any other side in the Premier League this season. The former total was expected to increase while the latter remains stagnant. Instead, a hapless Saints side, at least in the first half, followed Manchester United (3-1) as the only outfit to deny Arsenal all three points.

A moment that no one saw coming, given how the game was panning out, saw Mohamed Elyounoussi feeding in Armstrong with a fine pass before the ex-Celtic midfielder delivered a neat finish to Aaron Ramsdale’s left inside the penalty area. Armstrong’s equaliser was his first goal in 21 league appearances, while each of his last seven goals in the competition has been scored at home. This also meant Arsenal failed to win a Premier League game in which they opened the scoring for the first time since New Year’s Day against Man City (1-2 loss) having won 18 successive such matches before today.

Ralph Hasenhüttl, meanwhile, can at least quieten the chatter surrounding his removal as Saints boss for another week. A three-game unbeaten streak represents their longest run since between January and February 2022, a run of 5 games. Despite this setback, and that drop off in performance levels in that second half will concern Arteta, it’s still worth noting they’ve won four of their six league games on the road so far this season, taking them 10 games to reach this amount of wins last term. Nine wins across their opening 11 games still represent the club’s best-ever start to a top-flight campaign. They will have a chance to make amends when bottom-side Nottingham Forest visits in a week’s time albeit Steve Cooper’s men will be in a buoyant mood.