Arsenal’s 2013 got off to a stuttering start against Southampton as Arsene Wenger’s men could only muster a 1-1 draw in a terrible game at St Mary’s.
Comically bad defending from the Gunners gifted Gaston Ramirez an opener before an own goal from Guly do Prado levelled things up before the break. In the second half both teams huffed and puffed but despite half chances neither side could find a winner.
We looked pretty useful initially. The same side that started the 7-3 win over Newcastle knocked the ball around with zip, made good use of the flanks and looked the business.
The initial sense of well-being soon wore off; our performance resembling one of those sneaky slow-burning hangovers which hit about ten minutes after you wake up.
Artur Boruc, returning to the Saints goal, looked very rusty dropping a couple of crosses he should have dealt with easily, however, aside from a speculative Santi Cazorla volley which deflected wide and a Podolski charge which resulted in a blocked shot, we did little but dip our toe in the attacking waters for the first twenty minutes.
The home side didn’t look overly dangerous themselves; Gaston Ramirez the best of an average bunch although their harrying in the centre of the park eventually unsettled us turning the game into scrappy encounter. Theo Walcott appeared very isolated up front as the lone frontman and without any penetration from the likes of Cazorla, Podolski and Chamberlain we weren’t so much toothless as totally gummy.
Unsurprisingly we were punished for our lackadaisical attitude. On 34 minutes Sagna, looking shaky for the second game in a row, hacked a clearance across our box causing absolute panic in the heart of our defence. Under pressure from Puncheon, Vermaelen failed to clear and Gaston Ramirez calmly slotted past a helpless Szczesny from 8-yards. 0-1.
Luckily five minutes before half-time we got an equaliser out of nothing. A free-kick 30-yards from goal on the left touchline was whipped into the box by Walcott and, under minimal pressure from Laurent Koscielny, Saints’ Brazilian striker Guly do Prado slid the ball into his own net. It was the softest of goals. 1-1.
We picked up the pace just before the break and might have had a penalty for handball but in truth we didn’t deserve a half-time lead having played very much with the handbrake on.
Five minutes after the re-start Do Prado nearly made up for his own goal with a swerving effort from outside the box before Sagna nearly kneed the resulting corner past Szczesny; the Pole did well to claim the ball at close quarters.
Recognising that his side still looked unbalanced, Wenger withdrew Podolski in the 57th minute, pushed Walcott to the right wing and sent on Olivier Giroud to lead the line. As if to make a point Theo’s first cross from his wide position landed somewhere near Paris.
Southampton looked the more dangerous side as the hour mark passed. Rickie Lambert slipped when he might have taken advantage of a sloppy Szczesny parry, Puncheon fired into the side netting moments later and Ramirez fired over from the edge of the box in the space of five frantic minutes. The Saints even had a goal disallowed for a slight push by Ramirez on Koscielny as the Uruguayan crashed home an overhead kick. It was the correct decision, despite the protestations of the home support.
When we were in possession we were tentative. Our passes either under hit, wayward or both. Walcott did muster a drive which butterfingers Boruc managed to hold before Gervinho and Ramsey were sent on for the fatigued Chamberlain and Cazorla.
Arteta flashed wide to end a spell of painful ‘football’ but it only signalled another period of tawdry action as the game entered the last ten minutes. Gervinho, who bagged a brace against the Saints in the home game back in September, dragged wide as we tried to play on the break but the fact that Olivier Giroud barely touched the ball summed up where we were going wrong. There was just no service of note from the midfield.
Puncheon nearly won it for Southampton with three minutes left then Gibbs fluffed his lines when he should have found an Arsenal man inside the box in injury-time.
Despite being unbeaten in the last five games, other results up and down the country mean that Arsenal are now four points adrift of the top four. It’s hardly surprising; today’s game was far to reminiscent of those away at Norwich, Everton and Aston Villa. The transfer window is now open – there’s no denying that we need to do some business if we’re to push on now.