Arsenal punish error-strewn Saints at St Mary’s


Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock took full advantage of Alex McCarthy’s errors as Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners at St Mary’s.

Ralph Hasenhüttl named an unchanged side following their 3-0 thrashing of Norwich at Carrow Road, while the Gunners were hoping to bounce back from two successive defeats to Manchester City and Brighton and register their first away win since February.

Southampton enjoyed much of the early possession and had a chance to take the lead inside the first 30 seconds as Ryan Bertrand delivered a dangerous cross into the box, though Stuart Armstrong was unable to adjust his feet quickly enough and get a shot away at Emiliano Martinez’s goal.

Arsenal emerged stronger from the early scare and should have opened the scoring in the 11th minute as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang escaped down the left flank before turning Jack Stephens on the edge of the area and rifling a shot against the underside of the crossbar, via the faintest of touches from the goalkeeper.

In a matter of minutes, McCarthy turned from hero to villain after Nketiah intercepted the keeper’s attempted pass into midfield, leaving the young striker to sprint through and roll the ball into the empty net for his second league goal of the season.

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Following the first scheduled drinks break, Southampton began to dominate the ball, but failed to create any clear-cut chances and break Arsenal’s defensive resolve.

Armstrong continued to pull the strings in the middle and came close to levelling proceedings before the half-time interval as Ings’s sublime touch helped set up Ryan Bertrand on the edge of the area but his cross only just eluded the sliding Armstrong.

With a goal to their name, Arsenal were able to sit back and wait for their moments to counter-attack. Nketiah had a golden opportunity to double their lead on the verge of the break after being put through by Nicolas Pepe; however the 21-year-old buckled under pressure as he failed to prod the ball through for the lurking Aubameyang, who would have been through on goal.

Southampton struggled at the tail-end of the first half, forcing Hasenhüttl into making changes at the start of the second period as Kyle Walker-Peters and Shane Long replaced the young duo of Yan Valery and Michael Obafemi.

The Saints improved after the break as within 6 minutes of the restart, Nathan Redmond combined with Bertrand to produce a cross for James Ward-Prowse who fired over, before Armstrong shot straight into the grateful grasp of Martinez from close range.

However, the home side was caught napping moments later as Martinez launched the ball forwards towards the path of Aubameyang, but the Gabonese striker was stopped from picking out a free Nketiah by Jan Bednarek, whose last-gasp block turned the ball inches wide of his own goal.

As the match approached the final 15 minutes, the Saints noticeably raised the intensity and showed more promising signs, without sufficiently challenging Martinez in goal.

Redmond lashed a shot into the side-netting as Hasenhüttl’s men rallied for an equaliser, an equaliser which nearly came on 78 minutes – their best chance of the game. Long got himself on the right side of the defender and did well to take Stephens’s long pass in his stride before unleashing a left-footed venomous shot that was brilliantly saved by Martinez, with the Arsenal keeper then gathering the ball quickly to prevent Ings from firing in the rebound.

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Five minutes from time, their push for an equalising goal was dealt a severe blow as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’ stray pass put Stephens under severe pressure from Aubameyang, which led to Stephens bringing down the attacker to deny a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Referee Graham Scott was quick to give Stephens a straight red card and from the resulting free-kick, any hope of a comeback was extinguished as Willock converted the rebound for his maiden Premier League goal after McCarthy spilled substitute Alexander Lacazette’s shot.

Defeat represented their 10th loss at home this season – equalling the club record for a Premier League season, set back in 1993-94. The Saints are 10 points off the relegation zone however, and are unlikely to be dragged into a relegation fight. A first victory since March means that Arsenal’s fight for European qualification is still alive as Mikel Arteta’s side move into 9th place.

Ralph Hasenhüttl spoke to Sky Sports after the defeat:

“We gave a goal away easily, too easily. After a few changes at half time, we were better in the second half and had the chance to equalise through Long.

“That could have changed the game, but we gave another easy goal away, which happens too often at home. A think a point was possible but, in the end, there was not enough from our side.

“We need to change our home performances to take more points at home, and that is out goal going forward.”

Southampton will hope to bounce back this Sunday when they take on relegation-threatened Watford at Vicarage Road at 16:30 BST.

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