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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 ( 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.

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

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday January 2 2013

Time: 9:43AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Happy New Year all. I can't work out whether it's the quality of the squad or the way we're managed that's the problem. We look a 5th/6th place side to be honest. I don't get the point of having Coquelin in the squad if you never play him. How on earth is he going to get better if it's now January and he hardly plays? If he's not good enough to play, why on earth is he at AFC?
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02/01/2013 10:08:00

At least Sagna wasn't reluctant to use his weaker foot in attempting to clear, but scuffed, a ball he did well to read. Maybe he should have used his stronger foot to have given Szczesny a chance to use his stronger foot. It seems a reluctance to use the wrong foot at times can be justified. I'm also a little perplexed at Wenger's reluctance to use Rosicky in the last few games. I would've thought that his experience coming off the bench at such key moments might prove more decisive than any talented youngster. Maybe our fragile Little Mozart is still not fully tuned but if not why have him on the bench?
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02/01/2013 10:10:00

haha Sagna deserves absolutely no praise for their goal at all. Very similar to the goal at Goodison as well. We were there for the taking yesterday, Wenger said he hoped we hadn't underestimated them, well I certainly do as well Arsene, considering how many times we've done it in the past, we'd have thought with an experienced team like we have you'll be able to manage that out of them.
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02/01/2013 10:36:00

My argument would be that players should simply work at getting stronger on their weaker foot. Worked out alright for a certain Dutch striker. The reluctance to use Rosicky has been odd because, if anything, I'd be looking at ways to start him, let alone as a sub.
Little Dutch
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02/01/2013 10:42:00

I imagine Sagna would be quite pleased not to receive any praise for their goal - it's criticism for it he'd be more concerned with. They're a reasonably well organised side at home but unfortunately I don't think we underestimated them. If only it were that simple. Sadly we're just not that strong a team at present - especially in midfield where we have plenty of fetchers and carriers but few creators. Even more evident when Cazorla ends up playing too deep trying to get some possession behind a front line that doesn't always excel at keeping possession and using the ball well in the final third.
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02/01/2013 10:56:00

Players should most definitely work on improving their weaker foot but while a forward getting it wrong on his weaker foot just means another unsuccessful attempt such decisions can be magnified if a defender gets it wrong.
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02/01/2013 11:01:00

I don't agree that we don't have a team capable of comfortably turning over Southampton on a slick, passing pitch. I do agree that we're not that strong anymore, but we definitely are strong enough to turn in some better performances than some of our shocking away days this Autumn/Winter
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02/01/2013 11:14:00

I think it's about time Jenkison got a run out. Sagna hasn't been that great, and Jenks is one player you can count on to give it his all no matter what. The performance yesterday was hideous, I'm nt sure what it is, but we need to come up with a way to not be so s*** away from home. Whether it be the fault of the tactics or players I'm unsure, but something needs to change.
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02/01/2013 11:22:00

Slick, passing or 'unctuous' pitch? No one else has managed to 'comfortably' turn them over at St Mary's this season except Wigan perhaps in their first home game. Sadly if we were strong enough to consistently produce better performances we would have done so. We aren't so we haven't. No reason why we can't get better but the midfield/forward line still isn't where it needs to be at present. It'l take a season or two to get there though.
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02/01/2013 11:29:00

Jenks is a whole hearted enthusiastic kid who may well be really good in a couple of seasons but we have such players in too many positions at the moment. The team is significantly better when Sagna plays. Maybe there'll come a time when Jenks should take over but it won't be anytime this season.
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02/01/2013 11:32:00

Indeed, it’s always magnified in light of a goal or other avoidable errors. Inside the stadium, as those who sit with me will doubtlessly say with a roll of the eyes, it bothers me so much that I do point it out every single time it happens. For instance, Gibbs made an interception in the first half which he so nearly missed, simply because he twisted his body to intercept the ball with his left when he would have got it comfortably with his right. He got away with it, but he was willing to take the risk (had he missed the ball Rickie Lambert would have been one on one with Szczesny), he wasn’t even trying to pass or kick the ball, he just needed to get a toe to it and divert its path but still wouldn’t even countenance touching the ball with his right. Of course, he got away with it, much in the same way some of Theo’s selfishness against Newcastle will be understandably glossed over because he scored a hat trick. It’s appalling the amount of times it happens. I really would be happy to list every single time it does (Jack in particular would rather pass the ball backwards on his left than make a much better pass five yards forwards because it would involve using his right foot), but it would probably be carping and tiresome to read- if it isn’t already.
Little Dutch
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02/01/2013 11:41:00

Its not just a question of using your weaker foot for me, its about getting your foot (any foot) into a challenge. We were appalling bad at looking after the ball yesterday, especially when we didn't have it. I don't understand how Wenger expects to get much from games where we don't compete or go hunting for the ball in midfield. There was a point roughly 10 minutes into the first half where the team literally stopped challenging for the 50/50 balls and handed the initiative to Southampton. That's got nothing to do with a weaker foot or even a lack of creativity and more about an absence of motivation. Where the feck has the desire to win gone with this team? I watch Van Persie absolutely desperate to score for Utd and can only wish some of our lot had half his hunger.
Wyn Mills
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02/01/2013 11:42:00

I think he's a little more than that Amos, he's actually a very good player. When they're both at their best Sagna is clearly a better player, but as it stands Sagna, in my humble opinion isn't offering us his best. Not the worst defending I've ever seen but not the best and most of his forrays down the right end up with either a over-hit cross and one that the keeper easily plucks out of the air. Our weak-ish squad hasn't always afforded us the chance to make changes when players are out of form, but I really think Jenks is good enough to replace Sagna. At the very least he should be playing against Swansea to see how he gets on.
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02/01/2013 11:56:00

We made much the same number of successful tackles as Southampton and won more 'duels' according to Opta. It isn't down to that old lack of spirit, fighting mentality chestnut. We're 20 games into the season. The current team isn't able to do better than it's currently doing. While some players will get better (it's usually more noticeably the younger players reluctant to use their wrong foot) we've still got a season or two team building before we have something better than we have at present.
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02/01/2013 11:59:00

I think Sagna has been our best player in some of last months games. He did well to intercept the ball that he then scuffed for their goal. I'm not sure that Jenks yet possesses the same level of wherewithal. It'll only come with games of course but while we're trying to integrate Ox, Wilshere, Gibbs and Ramsey at times it's too costly a burden at the moment. I'm up for ringing a few changes in the FAC though. That's what the domestic cups are for.
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02/01/2013 12:08:00

You're probably right with regards to Jenks having The Ox infront of him it does leave us a little unprotected on that side. However even though Wilshere and Gibbs are still learning the game I'm not sure they are still in the intergration stages, they've got 200 first team appearances between them.
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02/01/2013 12:47:00

Gibbs has started 42 PL games over a 5 year period. This will be pretty much his first season as first choice. At 23 he should be considered as 'integrated' but in reality he's still short on experience at this level though he's less of a concern than some. Similarly though Jack has much the same number of starts as Gibbs he really has only had one season in the PL. Like Ox, Ramsey and Jenks they're more than talented enough but we're having to try to tutor too many at the same time.
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02/01/2013 12:58:00

Its all relative though, isn't it? Our percentage of tackles actually won was lower than Southampton (Source:Sky), and in fact statistically low compared to the rest of the league. I've never been sure what the stats on 'duels' include - The number of times Szcznesy plucked the ball off the head of a Southampton forward? I wouldn't dismiss 'fighting spirit' so lightly - old chesnut or not. Its won some of our greatest (and less gifted) teams their honours and you're not going to get very far without it.
Wyn Mills
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02/01/2013 13:06:00

Their lack of involvement is only due to injury though, they've been around the set-up long enough and played enough games to know their team mates and what the gaffer expects. The jury is still out on whether Gibbs is good enough, but that's nothing to do with intergration in my opinion, but Wilshere for sure is good enough and experienced enough to not be a burden on our team. You're right about The Ox though .... Ramsey, I'm still not sure what's going on there, whether it be his injury, confidence or just not good enough, but he's still young enough to be able to come good.
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02/01/2013 13:10:00

Jenks would surely have given us greater energy and commitment than Sagna, as I'm sure Rosicky would also have done. Sagna looks like he's lost a lot of pace to me. Its obviously easy to say all of this in hindsight but like many things the speed of tactical change evident from the touchline is baffling.
Wyn Mills
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02/01/2013 13:17:00

I don't think there's any substitute for playing together and playing time no matter how talented. The fact is that Wilshere and Gibbs are still relatively short on experience for whatever reason. While they're gaining that experience their talents will help them but other players will have to carry the burden. It's no great problem with a player or two but when it's 4 or 5 then it becomes a problem no matter how talented they are. Most will come good but we'll struggle in the meantime.
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02/01/2013 13:20:00

That result dampened my New Year's Day routine, somewhat. In my view, it wasn't just the lack of fight, or the one-footed players who wont trust their weaker foot for the simple things or creativity that was missing. It was the abject lack of motivation and composure of the players when in the final 3rd of the opponent's area. This is a coaching problem. Players can be taught to be more patient and deliberate in their decision making, as seen with the sides which we look at with envy today. When we are composed and pick out our man with precise passing, we do much better in games; we usually show more motivation in such games and are difficult to play against on such days. We gear has not been able to make this a more consistent feature of our play. The attitude is so poor and you feel the team is getting close to a "Collapse", occasioned by frustration and a lack of trust in one another, should similar displays persist while teams around us on the table keep winning their games.
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02/01/2013 13:30:00

*Wenger has not been able to...*

I am not sure we can afford to start Jenks over Sagna as that will be too many inexperienced players at the same time, in the team. Jenks shows fight, is quick and has a good cross on him, but will not read the game as well as Bac and for me, has recently, developed this tendency to retreat than go forward. I can't help recalling his contribution to the 2nd Swansea goal at the Emirates. He still needs to learn, but should play the odd game here and there. We need a more composed presence leading the line. Giroud, for all his good work, has poor ball control, especially when he is being challenged and needs to do better with his hold up play. Theo still doesn't convince me as a CF; rather, he has started to allow his desire for personal glory harm the team effort. He should be looking to put better placed mates on goal sometimes, instead of trying for it himself all the time. Then there was that his decision to take that 92nd minute free kick when Jack would have played in a better ball and he should be in the box looking to score. That got me really mad at whoever gives the nod for these things. Theo has to take it easy even as I will admit he is much improved but
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02/01/2013 13:45:00

How long are we going to harp on about our 'kids' needing experience? Most of the team are full internationals with huge champions league experience. And even if experience could be held up as an excuse why is it missing in the first place?
Wyn Mills
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02/01/2013 13:49:00

I think this game was ripe and ready for Rosicky to come on but why he didn’t is a bit of a mystery. Sagna looks like he is lacking energy (or interest?) and he had a poor game yesterday. After two broken legs in a year though, maybe this is understandable. Gervinho, I think his wages could be better spent elsewhere. We desperately need a boost from the transfer market if we have designs on a CL spot; after all, we can’t miss out on getting through the group stages and then elimination in the next round can we. Over to you Arsene.
Sir Henry
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02/01/2013 13:59:00

I'm not 'harping' on about our young players needing more experience (though they'll obviously benefit from doing so) I'm simply pointing out that in a team which has rather too many such players calling for us to employ more of them at the expense of those experienced players we do have whenever they make a mistake won't take us anywhere in the short term. Neither is it a problem of fighting spirit or attitude or lack of motivation or any of those other clichés that always get trotted out after a result we're unhappy with. It's a basic problem of team composition having been stripped of what should be our experienced players and it'll take season or two to put it right. In the meantime enjoy the good performances, they'll be there, and prepare for the poor ones - they'll be quite of few of those too.
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02/01/2013 14:14:00

Jenks in against Swansea definitely, but I would expect Sagna to start against Man City. Mertesacker coming back into the team will make more of a difference than Jenks for Sagna would. Might as well keep Vermaelen-Koscielny against Swansea though, I wouldn't want to risk Mertesacker getting injured before City and Chelsea.
Arsenales F.C
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02/01/2013 14:20:00

There definitely appeared to be a lack of energy, i suppose you can call that 'fighting spirit', is it a more acceptable way of saying it? You're effectively saying that the only thing to blame for poor performances is completely out of the player's hands, it's entirely not their fault. We even had boxing day off, we should've been playing at a much higher tempo, and sharpness than what we were.
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02/01/2013 14:30:00

It would have helped if we'd had or been able to use players capable of playing at a higher tempo but in this case I think Southampton were just fairly adept at controlling or limiting our midfield play and we simply don't yet have the midfield/forward combination able to guarantee we can dominate in every game.
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02/01/2013 14:44:00

How about the odd away game? This is clearly an issue that's arisen, we played really well at City, Liverpool, what other away performances have been up to that standard? Chelsea managed to beat us relatively comfortably with a brand new type of front line, you can't just chalk these performances up to players not playing together long enough, these are experienced internationals.
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02/01/2013 14:53:00

One of the advantages teams like Chelsea have is that they do have pretty settled squads and teams. As it happens our midfield dealt with theirs pretty well (Ramsey aside) until one of our more experienced players went off and they only beat us with a couple of set pieces. That was one of our better performances despite the scoreline. We played well away to West Ham and at Reading I thought. It isn't only about the players not playing together long enough but that most of those that have been with us for sometime are relatively inexperienced themselves. Both our midfields and forward combinations are playing together for the first time this season - it shows.
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02/01/2013 15:08:00

It is a lack of spirit or fight to not be in on tackles and winning the 50-50s in my book. When we show fight, we are usually a different proposition, just as the games against City, West Ham and Spurs. It is a lack of motivation when the team isn't pushing for the win and appear satisfied with what they have, just because the opposition gives it a "scare". Teams with a focus will impose their game and take the last few minutes by the scruff and squeeze out the win. Yesterday, we didn't show enough of those qualities and I think Wenger needs to speak into the heads of the players and show some ruthlessness, if required.
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02/01/2013 18:53:00

I don't know what the actual level of this team is. Is the norm the game vs Southampton or Newcastle? I'm tending to view it as the former. Critical to get fresh blood into this squad - Cazorla has looked listless on far too many games this season - a level of consistency is still missing, and directly related to the dynamic movement in front of him. If the front 3 are static, he has a poor game.
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03/01/2013 08:52:00


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