Arsenal vs. Southampton: Talking Points from the Gunners' 6-1 Rout
Arsenal's 6-1 demolition of newly-promoted Southampton continued the optimism created by the 2-0 away victory over Liverpool. It was a performance that showed Arsenal can still produce a high level of attractive, attacking football.
It also showcased the improved versatility of Arsene Wenger's new-look squad. Here are the main talking points from an emphatic Gunners victory:
Mikel Arteta-Santi Cazorla connection is vital to Arsenal's success
This game further emphasized two points that have been clear all season. First, Santi Cazorla is essential to Arsenal's attacking play, and second, Mikel Arteta is the Gunners' most influential player.
The interplay between the two is restoring the quality and flow of Arsenal's game. Arteta is excelling as the deep-lying fulcrum. The veteran is assured and incisive with his passing in every area of the pitch.
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Cazorla's importance comes from his contributions in more advanced areas. He is relishing the role of chief provider and continues to exploit gaps in a defense with clever passing and keen creativity.
Against the Saints, Cazorla played a series of passes that either created a shooting opportunity, or set runners free behind the back four. His partnership with Arteta seamlessly links midfield and attack and maintains a high pace to Arsenal's possession play.
The only concern is that Arsenal have become so reliant on Arteta and Cazorla, it's hard to imagine them having much success if one or both were missing through injury or suspension.
Concern grows about Wojciech Szczesny
Back in June, this author wrote about Wojciech Szczesny's penchant for calamity and was roundly vilified for even suggesting the Polish stopper needs to work on his game. However, soon this scribe surely won't be the only one concerned by Szczesny's accident-prone performances.
He gifted Southampton their lone goal, after fumbling a simple claim and catch. To make matters worse, Szczesny's distribution was dreadful.
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On at least three occasions, he put Arsenal's back line under immediate pressure, thanks to some ill-advised and inaccurate kicks from deep. It may have been his first game back from injury, but it's not the first time Szczesny has made a blunder.
The youngster still often seems too casual and cocky to be relied upon as the steady presence Arsenal desperately need tending goal. After years of Manuel Almunia and Lukas Fabianski being charitable to the opposition, the Gunners should keep a close watch on Szczesny's efficiency as the season progresses.
Arsenal's trademark fluid style is returning
Arsenal are starting to resemble the free-flowing, attacking force they have often been during Wenger's tenure. While they had their moments last season, Arsenal were not nearly as effective and pleasing on the eye as usual.
Their play was often stunted, with true moments of quality occurring only in fits and starts. Things appear much better this season because the pace of play is higher and off-the-ball movement is more intelligent and fluid.
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The sharper movement is due to greater fluidity at key positions, with Lukas Podolski exemplifying this trend. Operating on the left, the Germany international frequently takes up positions in the middle. That creates space out wide not only for full-back Kieran Gibbs, but also for Cazorla, or whomever starts at central striker.
It's similar to the impact Yossi Benayoun made in tandem with Tomas Rosicky, during the latter months of last season. Deploying Gervinho through the middle yesterday, also increased the range of movement Arsenal were able to achieve.
Wenger now has a host of versatile attackers, increasing his options for forward alignments. That can help keep the squad fresh over the course of a long season and vary the threats Arsenal can pose different teams.
In their first two games Arsenal established defensive solidity and structural soundness. During their last two games, the Gunners have honed the intricate, fast-paced pass and move approach that defines their style.
The key now is to consistently combine these attributes in the biggest games. If they can, this Arsenal squad has a great chance to be a surprise factor, both in the EPL and UEFA Champions League.
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