|We had 6 days to prepare since our demolition of Norwich last Friday. Arsenal on the other hand are facing their 3rd game in 8 days – having lost at Brighton and the Etihad already. Their last win was against lowly West Ham on 7th March and even Lawro is going for a Saints win.
It is however the hottest day of the year and both sides will have to work much harder out there than had they played in mid-March as originally scheduled. I don’t doubt Arsenal know where there are bodies buried for the League to ignore Guendouzi’s stamp on Maupay at the Amex. However, Arteta has dropped him and they also miss several injured players and the suspended Luiz. The decent Sokratis and so-so Xhaka are both now back in the squad.
For Saints, Long is back and only Djenepo is missing, the final game of his suspension. One imagines Long and Obafemi will share the job of running around like mad things to unsettle Arsenal’s defence. Our defence need to be at it tonight as Arsenal may not be a great team, but they do still have great players.
Two stats stand out. Hojbjerg is the outfield player with the fewest goals (0) to shots (40) in the league and Arsenal haven’t had a negative goal difference late in the season since Saints won the Cup in ‘76. A Saints win, Arsenal in the red and a goal for PEH would be a good evening’s work.
Ryan Bertrand's 200th game for Saints unfortunately was not one to linger long in the memory
IBO Reporter : Spot51
|Well – what a bloody let down that was!
When I wrote that intro I hadn’t realised those missing from the Arsenal squad were the useless buggers responsible for their poor season. This was the first time this season Arsenal were able to play their first choice back four and Holding looked classy. Their midfield had strength and guile and up-front Pepe and Aubameyang were alongside the pacey NKetiah. Saints were unaltered from the Norwich starting XI and that seemed reasonable.
We had tea (a nice lasagne) so recorded the match and started watching about 19:15. It was awfully hot and the Kingsland side of the pitch was in deep shadow. Sky’s gantry pundit was Alan Smith (no bias there then) and the Gooners wore all yellow for the first time in the Premier League.
With the sun blazing down on the Itchen, most of the socially distanced subs were using brollies as parasols – apart from Sokratis who was, no doubt, dreaming of home. At kick off, both sides knelt but no racist air traffic was involved. Saints kicked off towards the Itchen and, within a minute, the ball was played in to Ings who couldn’t sort his feet out and Arsenal got a goal kick.
Saints had plenty of early possession. We had the crowd noise on, hoping to hear “Shoot the Pompey scum” but never did. Apparently, this was Bertie’s 200th Saints game.
Arsenal started to move the ball better and soon worked a chance for Aubameyang. The shot was saved but the offside flag was already up. Moments later they had the ball in our net but Saka was also offside. On 10m Aubameyang latched onto a long ball and cut into the box. He lashed the ball against our crossbar with the ball spinning out for a goal kick. Slow motion showed McCarthy had in fact got his left glove to the ball making it a fantastic save.
Mustafi clattered Ings on 11m and was carded. The free kick was headed out by Holding – if you assume that happened every time we crossed the ball you won’t be far wrong. This header dropped towards Armstrong whose ambitious volley sailed into the empty seating. Ings carried the ball forward and his mazy run ended with a blocked shot.
Saka was hurt but was able to carry on after attention. Valery was looking out of sorts. Perhaps it was being stuck out in the sun while the other 21 players were skulking in the shadows. On 18m Xhaka simply walked past the young right back, winning a corner that Saints cleared.
On 20m it all went tits up. Bednarek passed a ball back then dropped to make an angle for a return pass. Instead McCarthy went straight up the pitch – allowing Nketiah to roll the ball into the empty net! 0-1. Boo!
Before the drinks break, Armstrong and JWP got down the left but the latter’s shot was saved by Martinez. After the restart a long ball from Stephens was beautifully controlled by Ings. He laid the ball back to Bertie but the driven cross was just too quick for Armstrong sliding in.
Saints then spent several minutes camped in the Arsenal half, but no serious chances were created. On 41m Armstrong and Bertie won a corner on the left. As ever Holding headed it out and Arsenal broke quickly. Pepe’s cross was too close to McCarthy who held it.
Arsenal were making the most of their gift. They were settled into a 4-5-1 which we seemed unable to get through. In the added 3m Nketiah looked to embarrass McCarthy again but only succeeded in clattering the keeper. Moments later the youngster was played in by Pepe but his rushed shot skewed well wide. That was half time: 0-1 and Ralph had to do something.
By the restart, the shadow was reaching ¾ of the way to the Itchen and Ralph had pulled Obafemi and Valery for Long and KWP. The Spurs lad immediately looked a big improvement which suggests he wants a move (perhaps here...)?
Saka was booked for fouling KWP and then the youngster won a corner. The ref must’ve seen something going on as he gave them a FK. On 51 a great Saints move saw PEH lay the ball off for JWP to fire over. Saints were definitely better now but no end-product was forthcoming. PEH landed a cross right into the keeper’s gloves.
Suddenly Arsenal broke but as Aubameyang cut in Bednarek was across to block the cross. It was becoming end to end: first Armstrong had a shot saved then Bellerin’s effort was blocked. Ings was not getting the sort of chances he relishes. On 60m he was involved twice before Martinez caught his header.
Holding continued to dominate in their box heading behind when Saints threatened. In the scramble following the corner, Saints won a throw. The ball was worked to Long who set up ings but again he missed the target.
Willock replaced Pepe on 63m with Saints well on top. Both Hojbjerg and Armstrong missed chances before the 2nd drinks break but Tierney was unable to carry on and was replaced by Kolasinac.
Redmond was fouled by Ceballos. JWP’s cross found him but his shot was woeful. We definitely needed someone else out there to make something happen because nothing was working for Saints tonight. On 78m a superb ball found Long. The Irishman crashed his shot at goal but Martinez made a fine, double save to keep him out.
Maitland Niles and Lacazette replaced Ceballos and Nketiah. Then PEH went down but was able to carry on. The contest was then put out of our reach when Stephens was sent off. He seemed to have got a toe to the ball, but the referee decided he had denied Aubameyang a goalscoring opportunity and got out his red card.
It was a very central free kick which Lacazette stood over. Saints wall lined up but did nothing to stop the shot. McCarthy blocked the ball away but, despite all the bodies in the box it reached Lacazette who fired it back. Again the ball bounced off the keeper and again no Saints defender got near it. Willock had ages to stick it away. 0-2. Bugger!
In the 6m added time, Ralph finally made further substitutions, Romeu for Ings and Vestergaard for PEH. It was all Arsenal and I’m only glad we didn’t concede a third. Time ran out on another very unsatisfactory home performance.
Man of the Match
Alan Smith gave it to Holding who TBF was imperious. I suppose I will have to nominate a Saint although it is not an easy call. Guess I’m going to give it to the player who did most to keep the score down – Jan Bednarek