IBO Reporter : Spot51
|Saints side was as expected and only Tierney failed to make Arsenal’s more serious league side. Match referee was Kevin Friend and, after bright sunshine last Saturday, it was pissing down at St Mary’s again this Tuesday.
I caught some of Newcastle 1 Leeds 2 before our match was screened. In the studio Rio and Frannie were the pundits. For the second game running, BT’s commentary was provided by Pompey-born Ian Darke and Arsenal legend Martin Keown.
Saints kicked off towards the Northam and were soon in trouble. Bednarek was robbed as he carried the ball out from the back and the ball was slid in to Lacazette. McCarthy was off his line quickly to block the shot, allowing JWP to hook the ball out. Arsenal recovered the ball and McC was required to collect a Saka cross.
Saints moved up-field and Valery’s cross was met by the head of Ings. His effort hit Holding’s back and deflected for a corner. JWP went over to deliver an outswinger. Instead of putting it “into the mixer” he deliberately sent it to the edge of the box where Armstrong’s sweet half-volley went through Leno’s gloves and into the net. Three minutes gone and then 1-0 Saints. Call me a pessimist but I prefer to score the opener 3m from the end!
Arsenal had Saka and Pépé in wide positions either side of the striker and both looked lively. On 5m Saka went past Vokins and Stephens had to turn his cross out for a corner. The corner was met by Holding who could not get his header on target. Saints were making too many errors: when Valery lost the ball, Pépé cut in and McC had to field his cross. Moments later Stephens gave it to Partey who found Xhaka. The Swiss slid the ball inside Valery and Pépé held the full-back off before sticking past McCarthy. Eight minutes gone – already 1-1.
Arsenal began to dominate and Valery needed to steer Bellerin’s cross out for a corner. The ball was cleared and as Diallo tried to carry the ball out, he was tripped by Lacazette. In the other half, that was a certain booking but not here. Arsenal’s front 4 were closing our defenders down – it was like we were playing against ourselves. On 14m we gave them the ball again but, thankfully, Cédric was without his shooting boots and stuck it wide.
On 17m a ball out of defence found Adams in the centre circle who played the ball to Walcott, bombing in from the right. He got his shot away but it flew harmlessly wide. Armstrong was working hard for us and on 19m Bellerin saw yellow after tripping the Scot. Ings got on the end of JWP’s free kick but could only direct the ball straight at Leno.
Another turnover of the ball let Bellerin set up Pépé but McC was able to save this time. Arsenal were now well on top and listening to Keown and his Skate mate enthusing over it was sickening.
On 24m a rare Saints break saw Vokins find Adams, but Leno saved his header. Then, on 27m, Saints constructed a lovely passing move. Adams and Ings combined to set up Valery but the French lad stuck his shot off target. Saints were regaining ground and Armstrong was involved in much of our good play. On 28m he dribbled past their right-sided defenders before curling a shot just past the far post.
Valery was working hard against Pepe and Cedric and on 34m his timely interception on the edge of our box ended a promising Arsenal attack. Up the other end Armstrong beat 2 more defenders only to see his cross cleared.
On 38m David Luiz repaid our generosity by presenting the ball to Walcott. With runners getting forward the former Gooner horribly overhit his pass. It was end-to-end stuff but the next midfield turnover went to Arsenal. Lacazette sought out Saka on the right and McCarthy raced out to close him down. The youngster got there first, sidestepped our keeper and rolled the ball into the goal. 1-2 – Bugger!
Arsenal were now happy to sit on their lead but continued to probe. Stephens fouled Lacazette giving Arsenal a free kick but Bednarek rose to head it away. On 42m Lacazette went over in the box but the opinion of referee, VAR and even Keown, was “he was looking for it!”
Saints still tried to respond. Arsenal cleared a cross by JWP before, in the 2 added minutes, Diallo was able to shoot but he rather scuffed it and Leno saved. That was it – Half time and we were trailing.
Have you come across “Smitten” apples? I had one at half-time. Firm, flavoursome English apples from Kent – highly recommended! In the other evening kick-off, City were 4 up at West Brom. Could Big Sam be running out of luck this time?
Second half was a bit scrappy to begin with. The first action saw Vokins and Armstrong combine and find Theo but his cross was too close to Leno who pounced on it. Smith Rowe’s cross was cleared but Adams was fouled by Xhaka as he tried to carry the ball out. Then Cedric found Smith Rowe in the box. He turned the ball past McC but Stephens was on the line to clear the danger.
Saints won a corner but Arsenal cleared it and broke up-field. Bellerin’s cross was met at the near post by Pepe who somehow looped the ball away and out for a throw. Arsenal then survived another corner and, while Luiz had a sit down, we learned the Baggies were now 5-0 down to City.
Cédric was having a good game at left back and, on the hour, he tried to carry the ball all the way into our box, before Stephens stopped him. Saka was busy too. One moment he was blocking a cross, the next he was receiving from Cédric and shooting – thankfully, wide this time.
Saints then dominated the next few minutes but Arsenal held firm. Leno rose to punch Valery’s cross clear then Ings swerved past a few defenders before being halted by sheer weight of numbers. Ralph made his first change – Redmond on for Vokins. Diallo went to left back and Armstrong into the middle. Armstrong continued to get forward and looked our most dangerous player.
The one black mark on Arsenal’s evening was seeing play-maker Smith Rowe limp off on 67m - Arteta will hope he won’t be missing when United visit Arsenal on Saturday. He was in the process of replacing Pépé by Martinelli and the Ivorian had already been booked for trudging slowly across the pitch and not leaving by the shortest route. With Smith Rowe out, Pépé was sent back and Willian replaced the midfielder.
Our defence were late to switch back on as, almost immediately, Cédric hit another cross-field ball to Saka on the right. The England man drove a low, hard cross into the goal area and Lacazette stuck it in. 1-3 – this wasn’t in the script FFS!
Ralph, with an eye on Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa, immediately withdrew Ings and Walcott and sent on Big Dan and Watts. Moments later Partey was replaced. It may only have been cramp but Arsenal had the luxury of a 2 goal lead so Elneny came on.
Big Dan’s first duty was to head away Willian’s free kick. On 80m he was given the ball by Valery, but his control let him down and he fouled Cédric trying to win the ball back. Seen them given, but Mr Friend maybe put that down to youthful exuberance.
Both sides were guilty of not keeping the ball. Luiz could have been punished when he presented it to Adams, but the reliable Holding took the sting out his shot so Leno could save. Saints got another decent chance on 85m when Diallo sent Watts scurrying down the left where he was upended by Xhaka. This was JWP territory and, sure enough, our captain round their wall curled the ball, Sadly, Leno has been watching JWP videos and tipped the ball away so his defence could clear.
We kept at it in the dying minutes. Holding headed Valery’s cross behind and then cleared the resulting corner. Keown made Sake his MoM just as Pépé worked a chance to score another. He got in but, under pressure, put his shot too high. Watts then saw yellow for fouling Elneny.
During the added 5m, Pépé was finally replaced. This time he stepped off and walked around as Willock came on. Right at the end, Watts created a chance for Diallo but he could only land his header on the roof of the net. That was it – a 1-3 defeat to a side that have won 16 of the last 18 points available. It makes our cup win look even better and – though we are now 11th and below Arsenal, win our game in hand and we’ll be ahead of them - again!
Man of the Match
|For the neutral (and Arsenal fans) this was a much better match than Saturday’s. We again scored (ending Arsenal’s run of league clean sheets) and Leno made 2 top saves to confirm their win. Arsenal had better players than Saturday’s and, crucially, a much better attitude, working hard to stop us playing the way we like to. Keown made Saka BT’s MoM but for Saints our best performer, by some distance, was Stuart Armstrong. He scored a great goal and looked the complete midfielder. If we ever need another body in central midfield, Ralph should have no qualms about using Armstrong there.