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Arsenal 6 Southampton 1

The international break came at something of an inopportune time following a masterful performance and result at Anfield. The break is now proceeded by seven games in 21 days across three competitions. If Arsene Wenger could not have picked a better opponent to start that run given the way Southampton set up. With their penchant for counter attacking through the flanks, Arsene sprung a tactical surprise by opting for Gervinho to play as a centre forward, flanked by Oxlade-Chamberlain (already it seems, being groomed to take over from the soon to be departing Walcott) and Podolski. We had seen Gervinho trialled as a central striker in pre season. Podolski picks up nice areas between the full backs and centre halves which made it quite close to a two striker system in effect.

On a balmy late summer`s day (possibly the last one in which I can get away with wearing shades for a while) I was minded of a strikerless system we once piloted in a cup tie against Middlesbrough in the unbeaten season. With Henry rested, Pires and Ljungberg took turns to play in front of Bergkamp and the result was that Boro couldn`t isolate the threat. The Saints opted for a suicidal game plan, with Arsenal only too willing to plunge the knife in. The expanse of space found on the flanks was made plain in the opening seconds when Arteta spun his head and caressed a pass out to Chamberlain on the right, his cross was met by the onrushing Cazorla, but pressure from Steven Davis saw the Spaniard guide the ball over.

But if that was a broad hint, Southampton weren`t getting it. Lukas Podolski fought off three Saints midfielders when the ball looked lost; he bore down on the Southampton back four and slipped a pass into the marauding Gibbs. The Gunners left back put the ball low and hard into the six yard box and the bumbling Kelvin Davis could only claw it onto the leg of Hooiveld who stumbled the ball into his own net. Podolski and Cazorla are striking up a great relationship, but so too are Podolski and Gibbs. With the German preferring to take position slightly in field, it allows Gibbs to overlap and provide the width. There was no letting up from Arsenal with the floodgates open. Davis showed further portent of a poor afternoon in the Southampton goal when he flapped at a Cazorla cross, Coquelin clipped the ball back into the danger area and Mertesacker met with a firm header which was caught by Davis.

But Arsenal`s afternoon was set up to be easy and breezy when Steven Davis senselessly clattered Coquelin on the edge of the box. Lukas Podolski stepped up and curled his free kick over the wall and into the net. Davis will be disappointed with his starting position given that Podolski didn`t even have to find the corner of the net. But that`s Nigel Adkins` problem, Podolski had his first Arsenal goal in front of his home supporters. Adkins made a substitution, with new signing Maya Yoshida replacing Hooiveld. But it didn`t solve the away side`s primary issue, which was lack of pressure from the midfield. Cazorla was able to stroke the ball to Arteta at walking pace and the Spaniard had all the time to stop, wait for Yoshida to step out of position, allowing Gervinho to spin in behind him. Arteta duly provided a chipped through ball and Gervinho applied an emphatic finish.

The scoring for the half wasn`t done there. Podolski and Cazorla have reignited Arsenal`s ability to play one touch football in the final third and after they had toyed with the ball for a moment, Cazorla (whose name I am consciously aware that I am typing a lot) released Gervinho. The Ivorian ran at the beleaguered Southampton defence before then releasing Gibbs on the left, his cross was serendipitously deflected in via the foot of Nathaniel Clyne. I would sooner receive this sort of luck at Eastlands with the scores at 0-0 next week, but beggars can`t be choosers. But with that, Arsenal`s eye, perhaps understandably and in the goalkeeper`s case, literally, came off the ball.

Cazorla rather backed out of a 50-50 with James Ward-Prowse on the edge of the Arsenal area. Had the scores been 0-0 I doubt whether he would have done the same. The ball was worked wide to Nathaniel Clyne. Clyne`s looping cross ought to have been easily collected by Szczesny, but the Pole lost the ball in the sunshine and patted it down to Danny Fox, who made no mistake, rifling the ball into the roof of the net. Along with Szczesny`s shonky distribution, the mistake brought murmurs from the crowd. But if you have a 21 year old goalkeeper you have to accept he will make mistakes and take the short term pain for the long term gain. In the words of Damon Albarn, there`s no other way. If he`s making them in games like this, all the better. I have zero doubts about this affecting him. Let`s also remember that Mannone did a fair bit of fumbling high crosses at Anfield, but he went unpunished.

For the first twenty minutes of the second half, Arsenal dropped off, with Tuesday`s assignment in Montpellier in mind. The Saints dominated possession and the crowd were notably anxious. Especially when half time sub Gaston Ramirez miscued a shot which crept to the back post for Rickie Lambert. Fortunately he put a presentable chance wide. The home side kicked into life again when Gervinho shimmied his way past Yoshida to the by line and looked to cut the ball back, but only Chamberlain was in the area and he didn`t anticipate well enough that the cut back might bounce to him. The drawback of playing without a natural striker I guess.

However, Gervinho showed a fine striker`s instinct for Arsenal`s 5th. Cazorla played a pass to Ramsey on the edge of the area; Ramsey delightfully jinked past Clyne and found his finish clip the base of the post, only for Gervinho to follow in for a close range rebound. He was visibly disappointed to be taken off and not get the chance to complete his hat trick. But by taking him off early, Arsene is likely planning to use him on Tuesday night. By now Chamberlain was desperate to score, as was substitute Olivier Giroud. Chamberlain`s fulminating shot was parried by Davis. Walcott ought to have given Giroud a tap in for his first Gunners goal, after Cazorla (who else?) played a swerving ball through for Walcott on the right.

Giroud was all alone in the centre but Walcott, inexplicably, delayed the pass before chipping a harmless cross to nobody on the back post. That said, Theo did open his account for the season when, well, I probably don`t need to tell you who played the pass for the onrushing Vermaelen. The Belgian`s strike was saved by Davis, but Walcott was on hand to curl home the rebound. His muted celebration out of respect for the club that reared him was cemented when he and Chamberlain jogged over to the Saints fans at the final whistle. A thumping 6-1 win weeks after you`ve sold your best striker can only be an elixir for the confidence. Podolski and Cazorla in particular have brought the panache back into the side and the threat appears to be more multi faceted. Whether we have the squad depth over the season remains to be seen I think (I still regard an injury to Arteta with the same feverish pessimism as a text message from Ashley Cole). Make no mistake, Southampton played exactly how we`d have wanted them to. But it was pleasing to see a clinical display with a varied goal threat. Upcoming engagements against City and Chelsea will show us how positive we can really contemplate being. I'll speak to you upon my return from France on Thursday. LD.

ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 25.JENKINSON, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA, 22.COQUELIN (16.Ramsey '67), 19.CAZORLA, 15.CHAMBERLAIN, 9.PODOLSKI (12.Giroud '74), 27.GERVINHO (14.Walcott '75). Unused: 6.Koscielny, 11.A.Santos, 23.Arshavin, 24.Mannone.

SOUTHAMPTON: 1.K.DAVIS, 2.CLYNE, 5.HOOIVELD (3.Yoshida '29), 6.FONTE, 13.FOX, 20.LALLANA (c), 8.S.DAVIS (10.Ramirez H/T), 4.SCHNEIDERLIN, 16.WARD-PROWSE, 42.PUNCHEON, 7.LAMBERT (9.Rodriguez '76). Unused: 12.Gazzaniga, 22.Richardson, 24.Mayuka, 27.Chaplow.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday September 16 2012

Time: 4:02PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
I think that's a fair summation of the game and our prospects. At least with no real expectation that we can win the title any longer, we can at least enjoy the ride a little more. It's pleasing to see the spirit the team has in the way they give each other little handshakes through the game when someone has covered for someone; that bodes well for the season. I feel more optimistic for our chances against City and am hoping that our defensive organisation and solidity can continue through the Montpelier game so that confidence keeps building ahead of the visit to the Middle Eastlands. It was really interesting to see Gervinho in that role and I wonder how many further times AW will try that out. Btw, do you really think Walcott is definitely off? Have to say, sounds probable because news of a new contract being signed has all gone quiet.
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16/09/2012 17:13:00

get 4 points from the Manchester city and Chelsea games and we will be in the mix for the title come may bar a major injury crisis. Don't forget that still to come are Rosicky, Jack and Sagna with Diaby and Kozzer on the sideline waiting to come back in.
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16/09/2012 18:35:00

Thanks for the report, LD. Carzola is increasingly becoming the most influential player in the side and is usually behind everything good in our offensive play. How would you regard an injury to him then, one would like to know. It is my feeeling that Szczesny was conscious of Jenks' presence as he went for that ball, perhaps to guard against clattering into him with his ribs (he just recovered from a rib injury, no?) unprotected. He actually dropped the ball on Jenks' head and it dropped kindly for Fox. Sounds like making an excuse for the lad but I don't think he is going to be dropping such balls too many times in his career.
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16/09/2012 18:41:00

The squad is looking pretty strong and Wenger has to rotate wisely for full effect. As for the game in midweek, expect to see nearly all of our French contingent on show: Diaby, Giroud, Koscielny, Coquelin....Gervinho too, of course, being a French league import. Time to rest Arteta and even Carzola or Poldi, in wait for the game against City. What do you think?
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16/09/2012 18:46:00

Cazorla is an alien.
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16/09/2012 20:01:00

Great result, and Cazorla was simply brilliant. A lot of our play passes through him and he is a joy to watch. Arteta had another solid game, and these 2 are crucial in our mid field. I'm not going to think about title challenges, coz its too early, plus an injury to a key player would derail our chances. Early yet in the season. Just happy to be winning games, for now.
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16/09/2012 23:06:00

not gonna bother about ladder positions or title challenges etc til 10 games in. for now just enjoying a renaissance of counter attacking football I have craved to see from our team. caz, poldi, gerv and the ox are arsenal's very own (and very fast) relay team. just gives us another option to goal besides passing the opposition to death looking for a tap in. keep going lads. city and chelski will be worried I assure you.
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17/09/2012 04:27:00

Steve Coppel once described seeing Reading play well after a long slump as like "seeing an old friend", that was this game for me. Haven't seen Arsenal play like that in ages, long may it continue!
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17/09/2012 06:05:00

Interesting to see the impact that Gervinho had playing as a 'striker' in this game given some of the recent criticism in these columns of Wengers failure to sign a back up striker insisting that we couldn't count Gervinho or Walcott as strikers. There was a similar argument some time back that RvP couldn't be seen as a centre forward. If it wasn't for an ability to see and use the qualities a player has few of Wengers 'strikers' would have been 'strikers' at all.
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17/09/2012 07:00:00

Someone made a remark on Twitter that Gervinho is great at beating a man down the flanks, then his problems come when needing to make a decision on the pass/cross, and that playing centrally will often leave him with only the solitary choice ... shoot ... making his decision for him and ensuring his thoughts are more swift. Seems like a sound observation right now. With regards to Cazorla ... simply wow. 4 games, 4 man of the match performances. To think he cost less than almost every transfer for a top team. We were gutted that we didn't get Hazzard, and whilst he's looked like a good player, he's not looked anywhere near as good as Santi. Of course that could change, but man, Cazorla can play.
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17/09/2012 08:00:00

Good report. I have a good feeling about this team. Fealt Merta was great in the defence, Jenkinson is improving with every game. All in all a very professional job, I'll however like the team to challenge for the ball a bit higher up in the opposition half.
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17/09/2012 08:54:00

Rocky - I think Cazorla and Hazard are different kinds of players, but I see your point. Cazorla is the atypical Spanish player of today a la Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Villa, Mata and so on - just wonderful on the ball and able to dictate the play. Hazard seems more of an individualist. He does look class, what a shame he's ended up at the Chavs. Oh well, we'll see who comes up on top at the home game in a week or so :-)
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17/09/2012 09:01:00

I think Walcott will certainly go, if he was going to sign he would have done by now and the Bosman is looming for him. It will be interesting to see who comes in for him though. The folly of him asking for 100k a week is exposed because no other club (bar Liverpool!) came in for him this summer, so no other club thought he was worth those wages either. Interesting side note, I just read that Podolski completed all 31 of his passes on Saturday. That's an even more freakish stat when you consider that he's a striker.
Little Dutch
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17/09/2012 09:17:00

Yes, that's what I thought about Walcott, that he would have signed by now. I'm with the Club on this and think 75k pw is more than enough for him at this stage of his development. He should sign it, prove he's worth more, and then I'm sure we'd look to renegotiate his contract on better terms. If not, I'd rather we sell and put that 75k pw towards a super quality player that's perhaps worth 100k pw. I'm sure The Ox or Gervinho can do the job that Theo does.
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17/09/2012 10:40:00

Very refreshing! How nice it is to have games won by half time (even though we were only 3 up). Makes a massive difference to energy levels and potential injuries. Gervinho wasn't really playing as a striker for me, none of them were really, Arsene had obviously been watching Spain ;)
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17/09/2012 13:25:00

I had a good feeling about this season even after we sold RVP and Song but we can't get too carried away yet. It was a shame we had to sell RVP to one of our rivals but for his price we got 2 strikers who are both much younger. Also they have different strengths allowing us to change our style of play depending on how our opponents defend. Giroud will come good I'm fairly sure and he will be useful against opponents who defend deep. His aerial ability will allow to him to get on the end of crosses and force those teams to defend higher up the pitch. Hopefully between them, Giroud and Podolski will contribute more over a season than even RVP did last season. Nearly all our midfielder are also capable of scoring their fair share of goals so getting goals won't be a problem this season. We need to rotate the squad when appropriate to keep legs fresh and reduce risk of injuries. Hard to rest Cazorla when he is playing this well but it should become easier when Wilshere and Rosicky return from injury.
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17/09/2012 13:43:00

If Gervinho wasn't playing as a striker then Henry wasn't for the time he was here either. The target man role has never fitted in well with the style we've adopted since Wenger took over. When we get the movement and rotation right we just need anyone finding themselves in a scoring position to be able to do so.
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17/09/2012 13:49:00

Can't find them at the moment, but I saw a chalkboard on the 442 site that showed the average positions of the attackers. Gervinho was the most central, but Podolski was so close to him that it almost worked like a 4-4-2. Gibbs' average position was ahead of Arteta, Coquelin and nearly Cazorla too.
Little Dutch
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17/09/2012 13:56:00

In the modern game and with the fluidity of our game, you will find that our central attacker will have moments when he'll fall deep or be on the flanks, so Gervinho's role yesterday may befuddle opposition but certainly, he was deployed as striker. It may be seen as an experiment until one considers it won't be a first time, plus that is the role he sometimes plays for his country, with Drogba just being a target man when the Ivorians go for the long ball option. I wish we kept that element of surprise for the Chelsea game as I know their defense wouldn't cope.
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17/09/2012 15:38:00 In fact, this post from G4L explains it much better with regards our shape this season.
Little Dutch
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17/09/2012 15:49:00

Well maybe, but for me Henry played in a very different team and different style, we had 3 interchanging forwards for my money on Sat, Henry spent the majority of the time attacking from front left.
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17/09/2012 16:15:00

That post from G4L was quite good, and an interesting observation on a defensive 4-4-2 but a more fluid attacking formation. I wouldn't attribute that entirely to Bould (part credit only) since a major factor to this change is Cazorla's addition, brings so many options and the team looks like it has various options.
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17/09/2012 23:14:00

the way were playing, i can see us taking all 6 points from the city chelsea games
cornish gooner
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18/09/2012 17:08:00


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