Southampton 1 Arsenal 1
Old habits die hard and any new year resolutions to drink less or eat a little better were promptly destroyed before our train had pulled out of London Waterloo. Following the excesses of New Year`s Eve, I lay in bed prostrate as my alarm sounded, dreading the waves of nausea that would inevitably sail me down to the south coast. At times such as these, the only option left for an Englishman is the nuclear option. So I hurried down to the local greasy spoon for a full English. The way I was feeling at that point, I`d have happily taken it intravenously.
As our 12.30 train pulled out of Waterloo, one of our party decided to dish out a round of jaeger bombs from a handy supply of plastic cups. Happily, mine stayed down without my body satisfying its urge to send it back to whence it came at trajectory. Out of the deep and earnest respect I`m developing for my liver as I approach 30, I abstained from further alcohol until we arrived at Yates` in Southampton. Lucozade was my companion until a few jars of creamy Guinness and a follow up cheese burger put me to rights. Jog on resolutions.
Unfortunately, judging by the game itself, many of the players also took the famed "bottle of glenfiddich, fry up and cheeseburger 12 hour marathon" that I did. To say the game was slow in coming to life would be a bit like saying that Jonny Vegas is an irritating twat. It doesn`t need to be said. It is self-evident. Santi Cazorla tried a strike from range in the opening exchanges, which took a devilish deflection off of Yoshida and dipped just wide with the chunky looking Artur Boruc scrambling. Boruc`s lack of match sharpness (and love of pastry based products by the look of it) became rather pronounced when he dropped two routine catches in a matter of seconds in the early stages. Surely Arsenal would take that as encouragement and put him under pressure for the remainder of the game. Right? Guys?.......GUYS?
Once again away from home, Arsenal struggled to show any kind of imagination or purpose in possession and Southampton found it rather simple to school and stifle the Gunners offensively. Arsenal have favoured taking a defensive shape and having numbers behind the ball defensively this season, which has been successful in that respect. We certainly look a lot less exposed and prone to being counter attacked than we did last year. However, I think it`s sacrificed some of our attacking purpose. Three of our goals against Newcastle came from "transitions" in play. Either counter attacks or interceptions deep in Newcastle`s territory. I wonder if the strategy of sitting off makes us a bit "back footed" for want of a better expression, in attack. We`re backwards in coming forwards.
On 35 minutes however, Arsenal didn`t so much shoot themselves in the foot as purchase a rifle, take the safety catch off, press it into Gaston Ramirez`s palm and instructed him to shoot at will. Podolski played a woeful pass to Vermaelen because, like so many players in our team, he was horrifically scared of playing the ball with his weaker foot so instead opted for completely the wrong pass at an awkward angle. As a result, the pass was over hit and Vermaelen couldn`t control it. Rickie Lambert tried to play a low cross to Jason Puncheon. Bacary Sagna got to it but executed a poor clearance straight to Gaston Ramirez, whom Gibbs could not prevent from stroking past Szczesny. It wasn`t so much a comedy of errors as a mini epic. It ought to have been narrated by Homer.
Fortunately for us, within six minutes we were level. Southampton presumably felt left out by our rock star display of self destruction and Guly do Prado promptly threw a television set out of his hotel window. Puncheon needlessly fouled Arteta on Arsenal`s right. Walcott swung in a free kick which didn`t get close to reaching an Arsenal player. Do Prado gamely tried to intercept but succeeded only in toe ending the ball into his own net under no pressure. Arsenal at least had the good grace to be too embarrassed to celebrate the goal.
Arsenal rarely bother with the first half nowadays, so I was feeling a tad more optimistic as the teams came out after the break. New year is the time for foolish optimism after all. But it was very much more of the same. When Wenger makes a substitution before the 70th minute you know that the situation is rather dire from an attacking point of view and Giroud came on for Podolski early in the half. It didn`t really change anything though. The front three didn`t swap and vary their threat as they had against Newcastle, when Podolski and Walcott were at once able to score centre forward`s goals and create goals for teammates with classic wing play.
Arsenal`s anaemia was almost compounded as it was the home side that looked more likely to score. But only slightly. Do Prado`s shot was beaten away well by Szczesny, then the Pole showed smart reflexes as a Ramirez corner bounced off of Sagna`s legs and towards goal. Arsenal`s sole shot on target came when Walcott`s tame effort was held by Boruc. Podolski was in a much better position in the area at the time. Walcott needs to be very careful that his ego doesn`t supercede the needs of the team. For instance in the 91st minute, when Arsenal were awarded a free kick tailor made for Jack`s left footed delivery. Walcott ushered Wilshere to one side and tried to swing one in on his right from an unnatural angle. He shanked it straight at the first defender and a presentable opportunity vanished with it.
With inspiration lacking, I do have to question the decision not to bring Rosicky into the fray, who offers greater precision and penetration. Aaron Ramsey is a good player, but he`s probably not going to conjure a goal with the scores at 1-1. Gervinho`s form is horrendous and it`s telling that, judging by Wenger`s post match comments, he`s not even going to try to convince Ivory Coast to let him stay for the Swansea game prior to flying off for African Nations duty. He looks terrified of taking a risk for fear of doing something wrong. But I also have to say he looks like he lacks heart. Ramsey has suffered a spell of poor form and had the crowd on his back, but always looked willing to fight for the cause regardless. There was a point when Gervinho- like many before him- slipped on the unctuous surface, but subsequently stayed down on the turf looking dejected as Southampton surged forward.
Jason Puncheon tried to wriggle his way past the Arsenal rearguard before smashing a shot into the side netting. Gervinho offered up a carbon copy effort at the other end. Saints had a goal ruled out when Ramirez shoved Koscielny in the back whilst collecting Cork`s through ball. But the match rather trickled away in the unconvincing fashion in which it had been played as Arsenal never looked genuinely like scoring. Save for perhaps when Gibbs got behind Southampton`s defence in the 89th minute, but saw his cutback cleared inside the box. Displays such as this are becoming the norm away from home now. Villa, Stoke, Everton, Manchester United, Bradford, Norwich and Wigan. All games in which we struggle to create anything of note. Few of those sides had to work terribly hard to stifle us. Lest we forget that the defence we faced yesterday was torn apart by Gervinho in the reverse fixture. Arsene Wenger insinuated after the game that he would be active in January and he needs to be, because this team really needs a spark from somewhere. LD.
31.BORUC, 18.CORK, 3.YOSHIDA, 6.FONTE (c), 23.SHAW, 20.DO PRADO (33.de Ridder `83), 8.S.DAVIS, 4.SCHNEIDERLIN, 42.PUNCHEON, 10.RAMIREZ (11.Ward-Prowse `77), 7.LAMBERT (9.Rodriguez `74). Unused: 1.K.Davis, 5.Hooiveld, 22.Richardson, 24.Mayuka.
1.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA, 10.WILSHERE, 19.S.CARZOLA (16.Ramsey `74), 15.CHAMBERLAIN (27.Gervinho `74), 9.PODOLSKI (12.Giroud '580, 14.WALCOTT. Unused: 4.Mertesacker, 7.Rosicky, 22.Coquelin, 36.Martinez.