Arsenal played at home to Southampton yesterday in the Premier League. It was only their second home game of the season, and the other one had ended 0-0 with a very defensive Sunderland team. Southampton hadn't tried to be defensive in their opening three games, and the signs were that Arsenal would get more goalscoring chances in this game.
Arsene Wenger made three changes from the team that beat Liverpool 2-0 in their last game. Wojceich Szczesny returned from injury to play in goal, and Francis Coquelin filled in for the injured Abou Diaby in midfield. Up front, Gervinho came into the team in a wide role—which meant Olivier Giroud missed out—and Lukas Podolski played in a central role.
When the team lined up, it actually looked like Gervinho was the central player and both him and Podolski exchanged roles at times. Southampton did try to play defensively at first, but once the goals started to flow, there was no point. It took only 11 minutes for the first goal to come, and Southampton generously put it into their own net for Arsenal.
Podolski did very well to win the ball in midfield, and he gave it to Cazorla. The diminutive Spaniard then played the ball between two defenders for Kieran Gibbs to run on to. Gibbs cut the ball across the goalmouth, and the keeper could only parry it onto a defender, who deflected into his own goal from close range.
Arsenal then played some very good football, and it seemed like only a matter of time before they added to the tally. The second goal came just after the half-hour mark, and unusually for Arsenal, it came directly from a free kick.
Coquelin was taken down after he had played the ball 25 yards out from the Southampton goal. Both Podolski and Cazorla stood over the ball, but it was Podolski who struck it. The ball went over the wall and came back down again to beat the keeper.
It was a very well-struck free kick and a pleasant surprise to see Arsenal score directly from one. The ball wasn't right in the corner, and maybe the keeper could have done better. With a two-goal lead, Arsenal looked very comfortable, and it didn't look good for Southampton.
Within six minutes, Arsenal had added two more goals and Southampton were four down with the break approaching. The first one came from Gervinho when he spun away from his marker to run on to a ball over the top from Mikael Arteta. The ball was so well weighted that he was able to run on to it and blast it past the keeper at his near post with his first touch.
The final goal of the first half was another own goal after some more excellent football from Arsenal. The ball got played wide to the advancing Gibbs, and his first-time ball across the area was deflected into the net by a defender from 10 yards out. Halftime couldn't come quickly enough for Southampton, but they did manage some consolation just before the break.
With Arsenal up 4-0, they looked like they could come out and do the same thing in the second half. However, just before the break, Szczesny made a very bad error and handed Southampton a simple goal. He came out to catch a fairly routine cross, but he dropped the ball onto the head of one of his defenders, and it popped up for Daniel Fox to stab home from close range.
Arsenal certainly had their fair share of luck in the first half, but they played well enough to deserve their three-goal advantage. The pace of the game dropped off a little in the second half from an Arsenal perspective. The players had worked hard to gain their lead, and the prospect of a trip to Montpellier on Tuesday night might well have been on their minds. Southampton came into the game a little more, but Arsenal still looked very dangerous on the break.
Midway through the half, Aaron Ramsey came on for Coquelin, and he had an immediate impact. He played farther forward than Coquelin did, and within a few minutes he had made the third goal for Gervinho. He made a great run into the box, and his shot came back off the post for Gervinho to bundle into the net.
Gervinho hadn't scored a goal for Arsenal in 2012, but like buses these things usually come along in twos. I thought he had suffered badly after being made to take a penalty in a shootout for his country in the ACN final. He missed that penalty, of course, and the rest of his season with Arsenal went badly after that.
Hopefully the two goals yesterday will be the boost he needs to get back on track and become an integral part of the Arsenal team. He's a bit like Theo Walcott at times insofar as you're never quite sure what he is going to do next—and neither is he, it seems. There is no doubting his talent, but his decision-making at times leaves a lot to be desired.
With 15 minutes to go, Arsenal brought Walcott and Giroud on for Gervinho and Podolski. I hoped Giroud would get the chance to open his Arsenal account, but he never really caught sight of goal. Walcott did manage to get his name on the scoresheet, though, when he added Arsenal's sixth just before the end.
Thomas Vermaelen was very much involved in the last Arsenal goal, when he got forward only to have a good shot well saved. Cazorla shifted the ball quickly to Walcott from the rebound, and he side-footed it into the net with his left foot. He didn't really celebrate, apparently "out of respect" for his old club.
A little bit of that respect directed toward the team he currently plays for would go a long way, in my opinion. His refusal to sign a new contract was a real slap in the face for Arsenal, and I cannot see him being an Arsenal player next season. I would be shocked if he didn't leave the club on a free transfer next season without ever really fulfilling his potential.
In the end, it was a fairly routine win for Arsenal and not too bad a game to have three days before a trip to France. I'm sure Montpellier will offer a much sterner test on Tuesday night, but a similar performance from Arsenal will give them a great chance of getting a result.
Arsenal now find themselves up to third in the league table, with only Chelsea and Manchester United ahead of them. For a team going through some real transition, that's not a bad start to the season. Their next two league games will be much sterner tests, though, and real tests of how far the team has come.
For the moment, it's great to bask in the glory of a five-goal win, but the season really gets going now.
Here are the highlights of yesterday's game.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.
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