A toothless Arsenal did little to change opinions about their inconsistency as they were outplayed in parts by a well-organised Southampton on New Year's Day. Here, Peter Fraser assesses the problems for Arsene Wenger and the positives for Nigel Adkins
By Peter Fraser - Follow me on Twitter @SkySportsPeteF. Last Updated: 01/01/13 10:35pm
Arsene Wenger: 'We were not very good. Offensively, we did not create enough chances'
Arsenal were left frustrated by Southampton on Tuesday as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw which saw Arsene Wenger's team drop points in the race for the UEFA Champions League, while Nigel Adkins' excellent hosts climbed out of the relegation zone. England international Theo Walcott made his first appearance at St Mary's since leaving in 2006 but he, and fellow former Saint Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, could not inspire their London club. Southampton were well organised and were also the better team for large portions of the game against their previously free-scoring visitors. The Saints took a deserved lead in the first half through Gaston Ramirez but Brazilian forward Guly's own goal meant the points were shared.
Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boruc made his first appearance since 28th October. The 32-year-old replaced Kelvin Davis between the sticks and, after a very nervy start when he fumbled several crosses, he was perhaps lucky not to be regularly tested. Boruc was one of three changes, with Steven Davis and Ramirez also brought in.
Wenger slams sub-standard performance
Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain both started against their former club as Arsenal manager Wenger named the same side who defeated Newcastle United 7-3 on Saturday. Per Mertesacker was on the bench after missing last weekend's win through illness.
Adkins set his team up perfectly and could not have asked for much more from his players in stifling an Arsenal side who had thrashed Newcastle and Reading. Southampton had conceded a costly 37 Premier League goals before kick-off but looked much better defensively. Rickie Lambert was left as a lone front-man, with Guly and Jason Puncheon dropping deep whenever Southampton were out of possession. Central midfield was a key area of the game and Davis and Morgan Schneiderlin both had excellent matches in preventing any room for Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta. Reported Arsenal target Luke Shaw had a brilliant running battle with Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"Arsenal lacked attacking teeth. They never got going. They never gave Theo Walcott any service and it was not a great night for him"
Sky Sports' Alan Smith Quotes of the week
Wenger said in his post-match interview with Sky Sports: "We were not very good. Offensively, we did not create enough chances. Did we underestimate Southampton? I hope not." That summed up Arsenal, who, it should not be forgotten, beat Southampton 6-1 in September. Walcott, after his hat-trick against Newcastle, could not make an impact when again playing in his preferred central position. But he was starved of service. Lukas Podolski, playing on the left, was a passenger for the majority, with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. There can also be no excuses of fatigue after Arsenal's Boxing Day game against West Ham United was postponed.
Southampton did not make any changes until the final quarter-of-an-hour. The added pace of Jay Rodriguez in place of Lambert was the first substitution, which was designed to give a running outlet in the latter stages. Rising star James Ward-Prowse was then added in place of Guly to give some solidity. Steve De Ridder was booked shortly after coming on as a change for Ramirez.
Lukas Podolski: Ineffective game
A frustration for Wenger will be that his substitutions did little to change the course of the game. Olivier Giroud, sent on in place of the ineffective Podolski, produced several clumsy touches. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey found himself shackled in a similar fashion to Cazorla, and Gervinho, who came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, produced some typically erratic passing and shooting.
Lee Probert booked just two players, Schneiderlin and De Ridder, in a fairly mild-mannered game. But both teams had claims which could very easily have been given as penalties. Thomas Vermaelen clattered Maya Yoshida before clearing a ball in the eighth minute while, two minutes before half-time, a handball might have been awarded against Southampton's Jack Cork from a Podolski flicked pass. It was debatable whether Cork was inside the area but no foul was given.
Adkins praises defensive display
Davis, Schneiderlin, Jose Fonte and Ramirez were at the heart of everything good from Southampton's perspective. If teenage left-back Shaw is on Arsenal's wanted list, he also had a decent game. Although, at times, Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared to have the beating of his opponent, Shaw never gave up the challenge. Guly was unfortunate with his own goal, when stretching to attempt to clear Walcott's free-kick. But Southampton have now scored four own goals this season, a joint Premier League high, with three of them coming against Arsenal.
Walcott could not make an impact on his return to Southampton and was forced to work on scraps. Arsenal will also be worried by the performance of Bacary Sagna. The defender is undoubtedly a superb right-back but he had a shocking game. The France international's crosses were constantly inaccurate and his diabolical attempt at a clearance led to Southampton's goal.
"There are some tough games coming up for Southampton. The game against Aston Villa is massive. They are the games you look to for not getting beaten"
Sky Sports' Matt Le Tissier Quotes of the week
Premier League survival is the priority for Southampton and so Adkins could name a second-string side to face Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday. Their tough top-flight fixture list includes a vital game at fellow strugglers Aston Villa, welcoming high-flying Everton to St Mary's and visiting table-topping Manchester United before the end of January.
The first month of 2013 is also extremely difficult for Arsenal. They now trail the Champions League places by four points having played a game more than fourth-placed Chelsea, who host rock-bottom Queens Park Rangers on Wednesday. After an FA Cup trip to Swansea City on Sunday, Wenger's squad next host defending champions Manchester City in the league before travelling for a vital game at London derby rivals Chelsea and finishing January by playing Liverpool at Emirates Stadium.
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