Starting XI: Cech, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Xhaka, Gibbs, Alexis, Ozil, Welbeck
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Bellerin, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Giroud
Second half goals from Alexis Sanchez and substitute Olivier Giroud helped Arsenal to a 2-0 win against Southampton that takes them up to fifth place in the Premier League and closes the gap on the top four to three points.
Sanchez produced a moment of magic just before the hour mark to break the deadlock before Giroud headed in from close range with seven minutes remaining to secure the Gunners first Premier League win at Saint Mary’s since 2003.
Southampton were much the brighter side in the opening stages mounting probing attacks down the left flank with Ryan Bertrand at the centre of the action. In the space of 7 minutes the England left-back fired a low cross to the near post, set-up Steven Davis with a near pull-back to the edge of the area and attempted a shot of his own on the volley.
Arsenal’s first effort of note came on 14 minutes as Aaron Ramsey snatched a chance after good work by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cutting in off the right flank. The Welshman had more time than he thought as he put the opportunity wide of Fraser Forster’s left post.
The Gunners were neat and tidy, but lacked a killer ball. Ozil and Ramsey’s movement continued to make room for the Ox who had an attempt of his own blocked and another run that ended in a cross being cleared. Unfortunately, a hamstring problem cut short his evening and he was subbed off for Hector Bellerin on 35 minutes.
Prior to the change the Saints had regained their composure and might have taken the lead. In quick succession Mustafi denied Dusan Tadic with a fine sliding challenge then Cech made a big stop as the rebound fell to Manolo Gabbiadini.
The Italian later fired a free-kick just wide after Jon Moss adjudged a perfectly good tackle by Mustafi five yards outside the Arsenal box to be a foul. It was a ridiculous decision that could have proved costly. Nathan Redmond also came close in the closing stages of the half testing Cech with a stinging drive that was destined for the top corner before the keeper palmed it away for a corner.
There was time for two more Arsenal efforts, a tame Mustafi header that fell straight to Forster and a cross by Bellerin that Welbeck couldn’t direct goalwards.
As was the case in the first half Arsenal continued to find greater joy attacking down the right flank. Bellerin’s cross, which may have been aimed at Alexis, was volleyed goalwards by Ramsey only for Welbeck to inadvertently deflect it wide.
Just before the hour mark, the Gunners broke the deadlock. And it was a fine goal by Alexis. It started with Xhaka’s pass into Ozil who, from the edge of the box, flicked the ball on first time to Alexis. The Chilean controlled, left two Saints defenders on their arse with a dummy and, with Forster to beat from eight yards, picked his spot to send the travelling support into raptures. It was the striker’s 25th goal of the season, the most he’s ever scored in a single campaign since his career began. (1-0)
As the game grew stretched the pace of Alexis and Bellerin continued to cause the home side problems, if only the Spaniard’s crossing was more accurate. A Xhaka drive from the edge of the box was fielded by Forster as the Gunners went in search of a second.
Southampton sent on Shane Long and Sofiane Boufal for Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse; the latter departing immediately after missing a header from close range. With 10 minutes left Olivier Giroud replaced Welbeck and Jay Rodriguez came on for Tadic as the managers continued to shuffle their respective packs.
Giroud’s first involvement was to extend Arsenal’s lead with his 96th goal for the club. Ozil rescued a ball near the touchline, played back to Alexis who, from the edge of the box, picked out Ramsey at the back post with a lofted ball. The Welshman’s cushioned header fell kindly to the Frenchman who couldn’t miss with his head from two yards out. It was a killer blow for Claude Puel’s men. (2-0)
The win keeps the Gunners Champions League qualification hopes alive but doesn’t change the fact we’ll need to win our three remaining games and hope for another side to slip up. It’s not impossible, we might just escape Thursday night football after all. Here’s hoping.