Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Three Things: Arsenal v. Southampton (1-0)

Arsenal were back home tonight attempting to revitalize an EPL season where they have yet to beat a team in the top 11. Early in the game, Welbeck was sent in on goal by a beautiful pass from Cazorla (6’), but blew a really good chance to open the scoring (again calling into question his finishing) for not the first time this season. In the 14th minute, Southampton had an excellent chance to take the lead themselves, though the shot was over from close range. The rest of the half was back and forth until the 46th minute, when a free kick by Cazorla fell to Welbeck, who sent a glancing header off a Southampton defender and seemingly into goal – until a last second save by GK Fraser Forster saved the day.

For much of the rest of the match, it was Arsenal against Forster, with the Southampton goalkeeper seemingly unbeatable with an increasingly impressive string of saves from Welbeck, Giroud and others. Unbeatable, that is, until a lovely cut back pass from Ramsey, after a clear handball in the box, led to an easy finish for Sanchez (89’), who now has eight in his last eight. The goal punctuated a spell of great pressure from the Gunners, though they did have the advantage of playing against 10 men, after a hamstring sent a Saint off after all three subs had been used. But that should not take away from another late goal to gain points, even as Arsenal have lost more points from winning positions (9) of anyone in the league so far.

After the tough draw with Anderlecht and losses to Swansea and United, it was a nice bounce back week for the Gunners, who now have a very winnable list of fixtures that includes Stoke, Galatasaray, Newcastle (H), Liverpool, QPR (H) and West Ham. None of the games are easy, particularly Liverpool on the road, but the Gunners could certainly find themselves firmly back in the Top 4 if they get through the holiday season relatively unscathed. Three thoughts on the game …

1. Sanchez the Hero Yet Again: Sanchez is starting to make a serious claim for player of the year, even with the early success of Chelsea’s Costa and Fabergas. He now has 14 goals in all competitions this year, and eight in his last eight. More importantly, he appears to be the only one the team can count on to score with any consistency, though Giroud again looked bright when he came on in the 65th minute, unlucky not to score from a lovely header in the 85th minute, with one of Forster’s best saves of the night. But Ramsey, Cazorla, Ox and Welbeck continue to spurn far too many chances, putting a lot of pressure on the Chilean. Luckily, he has delivered so far and hopefully the rest of the team will start to contribute with more regularity.

2. Three’s a Charm? Not really, at least in this case. One of the most surprising narratives of the season so far is how average Arsenal have been at home. This was only their third victory in the league out of 7 games (with three draws and a loss), though they have now beaten Dortmund and Southampton in the past week, with the West Bromwich road win sandwiched in between. Arsenal will have to do much better at home if they are to charge back up the table in the future, with some chances to build on this lead coming up soon.

3. Traditional Powers Back at It: Liverpool, United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal were all winners this week, while Tottenham lost yet again and Everton blew a one-goal lead against Hull, in a season that appears to be falling apart for both clubs. Southampton, obviously, lost as well and now head into a group of tough fixtures that could see them drop out of the Top 4 (against United (H), Burnley (A), Everton (H), Crystal (A) and then Chelsea (H)). Looking at the table, Chelsea, Man City and United are back in the Top 4, with Arsenal in sixth, only two points behind United. And Liverpool stand in 8th, five points off the Top 4, after a rather terrible start to the season. So after the early narratives, we could be seeing a return to form for the traditional power teams in the league.

On a completely unrelated note, Real Madrid won their 17th game in a row in all competitions in what is becoming an incredible run for a team that many think might be the greatest offensive forces ever assembled. Can they take it all the way to the treble? Well, we’re a long way from that possibility, but I wouldn’t bet against it just yet.

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