Arsenal moved four points clear atop the Premier League with a 2-0 win at home to Southampton on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium in London. Olivier Giroud scored both goals, taking advantage of a goalkeeper error in the first half before sealing victory with a late penalty.
With the win, Arsenal moved onto 28 points, four ahead of Liverpool, who drew with rivals Everton earlier Saturday. The Gunners bounced back from a 2-1 loss at Manchester United before the international break. Southampton, who entered the match in third place, remained on 22 points.
England winger Theo Walcott returned to fitness for Arsenal after an injury layoff, but manager Arsene Wenger left him on the bench, opting instead for an attacking midfield trio of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere. For Southampton, centre-back Dejan Lovren missed out through illness.
Arsenal won this fixture 6-1 last season, with Southampton contributing two own-goals to the home side's margin of victory. But the Saints entered Saturday's match just three points off Arsenal's league-leading pace, and Mauricio Pochettino's side had already taken points off Liverpool and Manchester United this term.
That made for the prospect of a tight, entertaining match, but kickoff was delayed 15 minutes due to ongoing transportation problems in London. Once it started, Arsenal promptly started attacking.
Wilshere came close in the 11th minute with a chipped shot that cleared Artur Boruc before bouncing off the upright, allowing a grateful Boruc to collect. Seven minutes later, Ramsey hit the same upright with a cheeky backheel from Ozil's pass.
Arsenal went ahead through Olivier Giroud in the 22nd minute, but the goal had everything to do with an error by Boruc.
The Southampton keeper took too much time to clear a backpass, allowing Giroud to steal the ball and finish into an empty net for a 1-0 Arsenal lead at half-time. It was Giroud's sixth league goal of the season, but his first since Oct. 26, against Crystal Palace.
At half-time, Southampton took off Luke Shaw for Steven Davis, with Nathaniel Clyne moving across to left-back and James Ward-Prowse moving from midfield to right-back.
The Saints seemed to gain impetus following the break, with Adam Lallana shooting straight at Wojciech Szczesny in the 52nd minute. Jay Rodriguez then had a shot blocked before record signing Pablo Osvaldo replaced Lallana in the 54th minute.
Arsenal quickly regained control, however, with full-back Kieran Gibbs finding space to attack down the Gunners' left flank. Ozil shot tamely at Boruc before Wilshere directed a weak header on goal.
Wenger introduced Walcott—who joined Arsenal from Southampton in 2006—in the 70th minute. He had to shuffle his deck further when Arteta limped off in the 74th minute, replaced by Tomas Rosicky.
The change moved Wilshere back into the holding role alongside Ramsey as Arsenal attempted to hold their slim lead. Southampton responded with a renewed offensive on Arsenal's goal. Rickie Lambert had a shot deflected out, and Victor Wanyama blasted over from long range.
Wenger made his final substitution in the 81st minute, bringing on defender Nacho Monreal in place of Ozil. But instead of merely consolidating their lead, Arsenal sealed the win with a late penalty.
Referee Mark Clattenburg ruled that Jose Fonte fouled Per Mertesacker as Arsenal took a corner, and Giroud converted the penalty in the 86th minute.
|Arsenal Player Ratings vs. Southampton|
|Southampton Player Ratings vs. Arsenal|
Arsenal host Marseille on Tuesday in a UEFA Champions League, Group F match. The Gunners return to the Premier League with a trip to Cardiff City next Saturday.
Southampton play at Chelsea in Premier League action next Sunday.