by Jake Austin
This match had a certain hidden weight to it. For both the traveling ‘Gunners’ and the defending Southampton with both manager’s jobs on the line both teams needed goals and points. Southampton, for another mediocre season and the dismal run of goalless performances since the defeat in the EFL cup final to Manchester United in February, and Arsenal following once again a disappointing season where Arsené Wenger failed to live up to the lofty pre season expectations of finishing inside Champions league qualification and challenging for the title instead of struggling for fifth place. This, combined with the Fact that Arsenal could not, for the first time in 22 years, finish above their London rival, Tottenham, added to the gravity and excitement of the end to end attacking first half of football at St. Marys. And, until the half time whistle blew it seemed that the season was over for both teams. Despite the quick flow of the game and the constant attacking threat posed by both sides, it seemed that once again Southampton would not be precise enough to score, and Arsenal would not deliver to expectation. This was made worse, through the injury of Alex Oxlade – Chamberlin in the 35rd minute who had been the focal point and Commander of Arsenal’s attack until his injury and substitution. Both teams, however lacked bite in their attack, and were generous in handing over possession, especially in the final third of the field, turning the game into a counter attacking repetition until the end of the first half.
This trend was completely transformed after half time with two different teams stepping onto the field. Arsenal began to show their dominance and smothered feeble Southampton inside their own half for the rest of the game. Arsenal, however, still failed to show their true class by wasting possession meaning Southampton were still able to launch threatening counter attacks. Arsenal however persevered and Alexis Sanchez scored a moment of magic through wrong footing two Southampton defenders and firing to take the lead. This momentum then spurred substitute Olivier Giroud to head in Arsenal’s second, minutes after coming onto the pitch, sealing the win and salvaging Arsenal’s seasonal chances.
This game seemed to be a microcosm for Southampton season with at times exciting, flowing football but their lack of precision and the absence of the “clinical edge” as described by Claude Paul, to score goals meant the injury depleted defence could only hold on for so long. The Game also showcased the two tropes of Arsenal, with the first half disappointment and inability to perform contrasting to the dominance of the second half that show cases the potential of Arsenal under Arsené Wenger and their ability to perform at an elite level.
Overall this largely forgettable game could prove invaluable for Arsenal and their French manager as they edge closer to Manchester City in fourth, which in turn could lead to an extension of Wenger’s contract as such elite managers are hard to come by ,and even coming fourth in the league is now a respectable accomplishment with the wealth of talent such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola joining the league in recent years. Adding to this is the fact that success doesn’t necessarily carry over from a long reigning manager after they leave, as shown by Manchester United’s failure to return to Winning form since the retirement of Alex Fergueson after winning the Premier league in 2011. This game could also have the opposite effect on the Southampton manager as the Frenchman seems doomed to be unable to muster goals and is unable to compete for a European place, meaning that perhaps the Southampton owners will feel the need for a new manager next year to reinvigorate the team and propel them to further heights.