Arsenal lose ground in the race for the Premier League crown as they underwhelmed and dropped two potentially costly points on the South Coast of England as Southampton held Arsene Wenger's side to a 2-2 draw, in a match that the Saints could have claimed a victory in, on Tuesday, January 28.
The Gunners failed to pull the trigger in the first half as Southampton put the visitors under a constant, and effective attack. It was only until the second half when Arsenal truly came alive, perhaps inspired by a game-changing Wenger half-time team talk and, while the North Londoners equalised early before taking the lead, their concentration failed them which allowed the St Mary's side to restore parity.
It was one of those games that could define a season.
Arsenal battled well to get their goals, with a marvelously elegant effort from Olivier Giroud then bettered by a one-touch shot from distance by Santi Cazorla. Arsenal were uncharacteristically poor… and with Chelsea hosting West Ham United and Manchester City taking on Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday evening, they could end up slipping to third place and be in an unfamiliar position heading into February.
For much of the season Arsenal have led - and done so admirably, but how will they respond when tasked with playing catch-up?
An away win earlier this evening would have been vital for Arsenal to maintain their command at the top, put the pressure on City and Chelsea tomorrow and, with a home clash against Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon, the six points from these two games would have provided Wenger and his team with momentum going into a gauntlet run in February.
Now, any dropped points sustained during their trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool or their Emirates Stadium examination against Manchester United will really hit hard.
Player ratings versus Southampton…
Was nutmegged for Adam Lallana's goal. And, five minutes from the game's death, Szczesny had to be on guard to a: get a fist to Luke Shaw's powerful shot then b: deny the consequent set-piece after a brilliant ball in from James Ward-Prowse.
Bacary Sagna - 6.5
Clever hustling within two minutes of football resuming after half-time led to a direct assist to Olivier Giroud, however, any positive play was effectively canceled out ten minutes later as he lost out to a crucial duel with Jay Rodriguez, who then played in Lallana for a vital Saints equaliser at two-apiece.
Per Mertesacker - 7
His positional error - and failure to make a connection with the football following a cross from the left - almost allowed Sam Gallagher a route to goal. Almost made up for this by creating a clear goal-scoring chance for his defensive partner Laurent Koscielny. Made six clearances and completed 95% of his passes overall in the first 45 minutes.
Laurent Koscielny - 7
A superb save from Artur Boruc prevented Koscielny from equalising for the Gunners after a late surge in the first half.
Nacho Monreal - 4.5
It was he who was attempting to track Luke Shaw before the in-demand English full-back produced a killer cross which was capitalised on by Jose Fonte whose six-yard header beat Szczesny. Caused another gaffe, this time in the 36th minute, when he attempted to make a clearance but ended up striking the football exactly at the area he wanted to avoid, allowing Gallagher an advantageous shot from a ricochet. Fortunately for the Spaniard, Gallagher made a mug of it.
Mathieu Flamini - 5
One of Arsenal's stand-out performers of the season - a magnificent purchase from Arsene Wenger considering he was free - was out of sorts this evening. A two-footed, studs-up challenge on Schneiderlin reaped a red card from referee Lee Mason.
Mikel Arteta - 5.5
His return to Wenger's senior selection was not one to remember and he has a questionable partnership with Frenchman Flamini.
Serge Gnabry - 7
After half an hour of a dire team performance, Gnabry produced one stand-up piece of play as the young German embarked on a mazy run, before finding a team-mate with a pass.
Mesut Ozil - 7
The German's directness and confidence with the ball allowed Santi Cazorla to capitalise as Arsenal took the lead for the first time in the game when they went 2-1 up. It is just a shame, though, that moments such as that were few and far between. His second major highlight was yet another pacey run before striking a shot that bounced off a defender and almost dipped below the crossbar and into the goal having beaten Boruc.
Santi Cazorla - 6.5
Normally one of Arsenal's most consistent and strongest performers, however, his positional nous was found lacking as, all too often he would drift into the middle of the park leaving Monreal virtually on his own on the left. Like the majority of his team-mates, his first-half display was the polar opposite of his performance in the second half as his one-touch
Olivier Giroud - 7
If it had not been for his willingness to get involved, he would have been isolated at the top. The Frenchman so wanted to influence the game that he oft retreated into his own half in order to attempt to retrieve possession. His enthusiasm, though, was his undoing as he lifted a Saint clean off the ground with a classic robust striker's tackle. When he had otherwise been quiet in the first half, his goal on the 47th minute mark contained a superb piece of technical finesse.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald