Yesterday was another ninety minute performance that had all the elements becoming synonymous with Arsenal more and more. Poor in possession, few attacking opportunities, overrun in the midfield, moments of decent play they are unable to maintain, capped off by a more recent development — indiscipline.
Yet again, early in the second half, right as Arsenal were starting to show a glimpse of life, they kneecapped themselves with a sending off. This time it came from Gabriel collecting a foolish yellow card in the 58th minute for kicking the ball away and a second yellow for tugging down ex-Arsenal forward, Theo Walcott. Walcott had already gashed his old club earlier in the match scoring Southampton’s goal and would play a major role in this blow as well.
Similar to Burnley, Arsenal played an incredibly average to below average first half, but managed to show a little bit of life early in the second. Unlike the Burnley matchup, Arsenal used their brief stint of quality to put points on the board.
Saka provided one of the only moments of brilliance from an Arsenal perspective as he shrugged off a tackle, skipped between two defenders, made a mazy run toward the top the box, before playing a brilliant pass into the feet of a waiting Nketiah. From there, a deft little touch through from Eddie saw Aubameyang in on goal and Pierre made it count.
In the 52nd minute, Arsenal were level. In the 62nd minute, they were down to 10 men and left defending for their lives once more to hold onto a point. It had the feeling of the Leeds Unite match from a few weeks ago, but the frustration of team having 3 players sent off in 6 matches.
Southampton would have the bulk of the ball and plenty more chances to win the match, but both teams will feel they had a golden chance before their shots rattled off the woodwork. In the 70th minute, a Southampton shot from Redmond hit the bar after beating Rob Holding, who was left looking switched off. However, Holding would nearly make this whole thing feel just a bit better in the 92nd minute. Saka delivered an outstanding ball from a set pieces and Holding’s header may have been even better. Getting across his defender he launched a long range shot that had the keeper beat but smashed off the cross-section of the far post and crossbar.
The debate will split whether the match feels like 1 point gained against a top 4 side, or 2 points dropped in another home match.
1 point is the smallest of steps in the right direction but playing another half with 10 men is demoralizing. It’s costly to legs that have to go again versus Everton in another 72 hours for their third match of the week. In both of this week’s matches, players have played a second half with only 10 men, and it’s hard to imagine the point is a large boost to confidence. As Arsenal settle into 14th place, I’m left feeling as though “it will do”…but at what cost.
Arsenal will take on Everton, a side they struggled against last year when Arteta and Ancelotti met. They will do it in a poor run of form, without Gabriel who has been possibly their best player this season, and they’ll have to do it at Goodison Park.
In a game where you have a man sent off in the 62nd minute, it’s often hard to learn much about the team. The can hunker in an be resilient, I suppose; but once again, when on the cusp of possibly seeing the team bomb forward they provided their own downfall.
With that said, here are a few takeaways.
First sign of a Gabriel flaw?
As I mentioned before, Gabriel has probably been the best player for Arsenal this season. He has captured three consecutive Player of the Month awards, he has been a consistent staple in a backline rife with inconsistencies, and has provided some degree of security to Arsenal’s left side. It had seemed as though his game has few to no weaknesses. Yesterday may have been our first sight of one.
Not rash play, no, he is no Granit Xhaka. But it is clear he likes to impose his physical side. Twice he stepped into the midfield to be touch tight to Che Adams and Theo Walcott, and twice he got burned. 1 for a goal, 1 for his eventual red card.
I don’t think he strikes us as the type of player to make a lot of rash, stupid errors like the one that got him his first yellow card, but he is an enforcing presence that wants to use his body and make life difficult on attackers before they can settle on it. Yesterday, he overcommitted, lost the individual battle, got beat, left a hole in the backline and it cost Arsenal.
I don’t think any single Arsenal fan will have a difficult time forgiving him and welcoming him back into the side with open arms, however, it’s worth keeping an eye on how much he commits himself. He has gotten away with it for far this year, but it may have caught up with him.
Red cards – discipline
Arsenal have 7 red cards since Arteta took over and 3 in the last 6 matches. The worst part may be that all 3 of their recent cards have entailed REALLY stupid moments. The headbutt from Pepe, the choke from Xhaka, and while it isn’t quite on the same level, Gabriel’s kicking the ball away and essentially accepting the booking.
From their last three red cards, Arsenal have managed to scrape two points, but there is a feeling that Arsenal were on their way to winning both their matches against Burnley and possibly Southampton before dashing their own hopes. If that’s true, that would be an extra five points which would see them at 19 and in 11th place. A little more comfortable.
Poor against the press
There have been a handful of teams this year that have really effectively deployed a press against Arsenal, and it has exposed their inability to handle the pressure. Manchester City, Liverpool, and yesterday against Southampton are prime examples.
In all three of these games, Arsenal have struggled to find their way out of the back, settle on the ball, and show any semblance of an ability to pass their way out of trouble. Yesterday Arsenal had to settle for a lot of long balls, or and had 18 losses of possession under pressure.
A lot of this may come down the an ineffective ability to move the ball through their lines and a relatively poor midfield, but Arteta will need to come up with a solution. It’s a bit of a shock because it was only a few months ago that the Gunners were dicing through Manchester City and Liverpool to score wonderful team goals in the FA Cup and Community shield. It was a struggle yesterday, and it will continue to be a struggle until the midfield is addressed.
The games are going to keep rolling, and maybe there is something to Arteta’s desire to play quickly after losses. They will get a shot at trying to get momentum rolling against Everton on Saturday.