Gunner Thoughts

Cornered and Fighting for Our Life

Arsenal run themselves into a trapped position but fight their way to a point. Good enough? Doesn’t feel like it, but time will tell.

It was a game that offered everything from embarrassment to devastation to thrills and belief, and I felt like a cornered animal watching it. I felt like I witnessed myself running into a dead end and resigned to my own death, until animalistic, fight or flight kicked in and I found myself, literally, on my floor kneeling a foot from the screen, howling for a winner that wasn’t to come.

It felt like an energy transferred from the team itself, through my television, and into my own emotions. Perhaps, in many ways, it was just that. After all, we pick up on the emotions our teams put forth.

Arsenal draw 3-3 to Southampton and, as I said in yesterday’s blog, continue to struggle this year when it comes to entering their matches versus City with any sort of form.

It’s an entirely bizarre aspect of this season. Arsenal have 30 wins, 8 draws, and 6 losses, but entered their first Premier League matchup with City on the back of 2 losses and a draw, and will enter this make-or-break away fixture after 3 consecutive draws — all of which have come with a defeating feel. It’s enough to make you wonder if the club have seen their dates with City on the horizon and lost focus on the foreground.

Yesterday’s draw was a whirlwind. It wasn’t a tale of two halves but one of 75 minutes and 15 minutes.

They didn’t play like champions. They haven’t played much like champions in their last three matches. Yesterday, much like my viewing experience, Arsenal played like a desperate, hunted, cornered animals that ran themselves into a dead end.  

It brought something out of us at the end and maybe that fire and energy shocks the system and carries in to City, but it’s impossible to say things feel good at the moment.

Dominoes, Disarray, Dysfunction

Yesterday’s disarray feels rooted in its very beginning. You have to believe Ramsdale’s calamitous passing error that leads to a Southampton goal in the 2nd minutes is a domino leading to this topsy-turvy match script. It’s not the single reason that Arsenal come up short, very few isolated plays are, but some goals carry more weight than others.

To concede in this fashion, at this time, created a ripple effect that fractured a damaged Arsenal mindset. Coming into the match, everyone knew the score on the league table, knew three points were needed, and every player will have felt the demand on the day was a statement win and three points. Conceding in that fashion sent Arsenal to their panic stations.

The first half was: Chaotic. Flustered. Angsty. Angry. High tempo but with little control for stretches.

There was a lack of control to Arsenal’s game. A lack of maturity. Instead, we saw a team knowing the situation and, again, letting it get to their play. Partey looked bad. He looked out of sorts without a player like Xhaka next to him to reduce the space he might have to cover. While that could be understandable, it presents a future problem when Mikel seems to want a more attacking, less defensive left center midfielder.

When Arsenal needed their central figure to stand on the ball and take the reins, the game seems to slip further away and leave opportunities for Southampton. When the going got rough, Arsenal got end-to-end, not unlike we have seen in the second halves of their last two draws to West Ham and Liverpool.

If the control over the match at this crucial juncture was poor, the defending was worse. Arsenal have now conceded 7 goals in 3 matches, including 5 to 15th place West Ham and 20th place Southampton. There hasn’t been a clean sheet to the Gunner’s name since William Saliba left the squad and Gabriel is looking stretched thin.

On his right side, he is trying to ensure that Rob Holding has the support and cover he needs to play his game — to whatever level that is — and on his left, he’s got a lot of ground to cover to defend a left side vacated by an inverted Zinchenko role. When turnovers happen in bad areas, and unexpectedly, it’s asking for trouble that was negligible with Saliba to this right.

The first concession was an inexcusable mistake from Ramsdale, but Southampton’s second goal is horrible display of team play and defending.  It’s a bad place to turn the ball over, and then it’s disarray and a complete mess as Southampton transition. As Gabriel is caught between his central role and covering for Zinchenko, he neither closes down the ball carrier or stays with Walcott who slips off his back shoulder and in behind. It’s a tough spot to be, but it’s really bad work defensively as a unit, on top of the errant pass from Ødegaard.

BUT, Dante’s deepest layer of hell is reserved for TRAITORS like you, Theo. I shan’t forget! You couldn’t just put it straight into Ramsdale?

Southampton’s third goal, in the 66th minute, is the return of set piece concessions and it’s really bad defending on the back post from Zinchenko who seems to switch off or believe the ball is going to take a different bounce in traffic. Either way, it’s flicked on and tucked away without much contest from the Arsenal defender. Zinchenko was questionable for playing today with an injury and perhaps it showed. He really struggled in all phases of play.

Scrapping like junkyard dogs

I know that section skipped an Arsenal goal, but I assure you I am going back to it.

Southampton jumped to a sucker punch of a lead after fourteen minutes. We can joke that after going up 2-0 twice and failing to win this side wanted to try the other way around — I’m here for it — but that shit was deflating. Beyond deflating, it brought a horrible element of chaotic evil to his match and like a dog that catches traps its prey unexpectedly, Southampton seemed to not know what to do with a 2-0 goal.

The game got frenetic, Southampton seemed unsure whether it should bunker in or push for more, and Arsenal actually managed to peg back a decent goal through, of course, Saka and Martinelli. This duo on the wings were absolutely outstanding and if there IS a positive to take away, it’s that Arsenal have two of the best attacking players in the league and neither of them are anywhere near their prime.

Saka: 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 created chances
Martinelli: 1 goal, 6 created chances

The problem was, as much as Arsenal kept their foot on the gas in terms of tempo, it didn’t feel cohesive until the final 10-15 minutes.

I said it was a tale of 75 minutes and 15 minutes, and that this game “brought something out of us”, and both are true. In the final moments of the game, when desperation was at its peak, this trapped dog’s fight or flight instincts kicked in and created something.

Ødegaard wasn’t just probing for opportunities, he was driving with intent and carried a fiery look to his face. It wan an onslaught. It was a team that knew a loss spelt death to all they had worked to create the past eight months. And when that switch flipped, they scrapped. They fought, they battled, they attacked, they swarmed.

Ødegaard’s finish from outside the box is a quality finish and if Arsenal get the win, we are probably talking about it more. It’s really tidy play between him and White to work the shot and he buries it. It’s the type of goal that leaves you wondering why he doesn’t try to take those opportunities a little more often.

Two minutes later, in the 90th minute, Trossard plays a penetrating ball into the feet of Jesus who does really well to hold of his defender. He takes a one-touch lay off to Nelson — who I thought was spectacular in his limited minutes — and Reiss rifles a shot low and hard. He forces the save and, of course, it’s Saka there to clean it up.

Level 3-3, with 8 minutes of added time, everyone wanted that magic. We’ve already been treated to three late winners this year, why not another? Scrap your way out of this.

And they almost did. Trossard rifles a shot off the bar, there’s an onslaught of attacking shots, Jesus smashes one off Nketiah as 20 bodies litter the Southampton box, obstructing play. There were penalty appeals (I think we get a longer look at them if the stakes aren’t this high for both teams, in extra time), but nothing gives.

A point is always better than none, sure. By all the laws of the world, Manchester City have the opportunity to hit their own rough patch and drop points that make this comeback title-winning instead of title-dooming. As I said at the beginning, it’s just hard to feel that way at the moment.

At the moment, we feel like the sprinter whose strategy was get ahead of the pack so that when things slow down, the pack can’t catch you. Excepts it’s impossible to separate from City and the robo-runner that is Pep and Erling keep on coming.

In the recent weeks, Arsenal have felt like the hunted. Manchester City, the robotic team that doesn’t know how to lose titles, the team going for a three-peat and treble, have been hunting this young side. Last night, through no action of their own, they trapped their target. Arsenal are 5 points clear, but have played two extra games and have a date with Manchester City at the Etihad next.

If this comeback versus Southampton could be worth anything, it would be seen in the jarring wake up call and jolt of action that sparked two late goals. It would be the hunted now becoming the hunter.

People will talk about ‘bottle’ and I think Arsenal have opened the door for that. Heck, it may not even be entirely incorrect given how Arsenal have slipped in these last three matches. But if the pressure is “off”, if it’s back on a City team to win now, then please let these dogs hunt without fear on Wednesday.

Sad day, sad outcome, but try to stay hopeful and behind the boys. There will be plenty of time for ‘season post-mortems’. Enjoy your weekend.

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