Premier League leaders Arsenal were held to a 2-2 draw by Southampton on Tuesday evening at a rainy St. Mary's Stadium.
Following a poor first 45 minutes, the Gunners trailed 1-0 to Jose Fonte's opener. Arsenal turned around the match with two quick goals early in the second half, through Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla, but Southampton equalised via Adam Lallana shortly after falling behind.
The result ended Arsenal's run of seven straight wins in all competitions. The Gunners remain atop the table on 52 points, two ahead of Manchester City and three ahead of Chelsea. Both City and Chelsea play Wednesday.
Arsenal ended the match with 10 minutes following Mathieu Flamini's late sending-off. The French midfielder will miss Arsenal's next three matches through suspension.
"We have shown a lot of character and resilience to respond to what happened to us in the first half," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, per Arsenal.com. "Overall I would say it's a difficult point but a fair one in a very good football game. I wouldn't say it was a very very bad performance; I think it was a very good football game and Southampton deserved some credit."
Southampton 2-2 Arsenal FT: Shots(OT) 13(5) - 7(4), Possession 53% - 47%, Tackles 29 - 18 http://t.co/etk3NQoLMx— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 28, 2014
Wenger made seven changes to the team that defeated Coventry 4-0 in the FA Cup at the weekend. Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal came into the side as full-backs, while Mikel Arteta returned from injury to partner Flamini in the holding midfield.
Santi Cazorla slotted into the attacking midfield, Giroud started as the sole striker and Wojciech Szczesny replaced Lukasz Fabianksi in goal.
For Southampton, Dejan Lovren and Gaston Ramirez remained sidelined with injuries, while Dani Osvaldo missed out through suspension. Sam Gallagher, 18, made his first start, replacing Rickie Lambert as centre-forward.
Gallagher nearly had a change to open the scoring in the seventh minute after Luke Shaw's cross evaded Per Mertesacker in Arsenal's box. But Gallagher seemed surprised that the ball reached him and was unable to direct an effort on goal.
The youngster went closer one minute later, forcing a save from Szczesny after Arsenal gave away the ball in their box.
18-year old Gallagher a real handful upfront for Saints. Very tall, quick, nice touch. Another one off from the production line.— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) January 28, 2014
Arsenal, who arrived at the stadium later than expected, started sluggishly and barely had a touch in the opening 10 minutes. Southampton kept attacking, and Morgan Schneiderlin volleyed wide in the 12th minute after Szczesny had punched away a corner.
The hosts finally went ahead in the 21st minute, and the goal was deserved.
Shaw crossed from the left for Fonte, who rose above Monreal to head in at the near post. Szczesny hesitated while the ball was in the air and will have hoped to do better.
Two minutes later, Lallana nearly made it 2-0, but his low shot was deflected wide. Gallagher had another chance in the 37th minute following yet another giveaway in Arsenal's box, but he shanked his shot off-target with Szczesny racing out.
The league leaders were reeling, and only a superb block by Koscielny on Gallagher prevented another close-range shot in the 42nd minute. Koscielny then produced Arsenal's best attack of the half two minutes later, redirecting a corner on goal from close range. But Artur Boruc produced a fine reaction save to maintain Southampton's lead heading into half-time.
Arsenal are sleepwalking through this half. No intensity. No pace to their passing. Men v boys so far.— Wayne Veysey (@wayneveysey) January 28, 2014
"I don't want to look for any excuses. We played in second gear and Southampton in the fourth," Wenger said of the first half, per Arsenal.com. "(Southampton) played at a higher pace than us, they decided to stop us from playing (and) they did it very well. But it's difficult to maintain what they did for 90 minutes and during the season but they did it very well in the first half."
Arsenal improved markedly after the break, and with their first substantial attack, they were level.
In the 48th minute, Sagna gathered the ball on the right, drove into the box and played a pass into the middle for Giroud. The French striker had his back to goal but deftly redirected the ball into the net with his heel to make it 1-1.
Four minutes later, Arsenal were ahead.
Again the goal came from the right side. Mesut Ozil, who had been quiet throughout the first half, cut in from the flank and laid a pass across the edge of the box for Cazorla. With his first touch, Cazorla curled his shot off the outside of his foot past Boruc to give Arsenal a stunning 2-1 advantage.
The lead was short-lived, though. Just two minutes later, Jay Rodriguez gathered the ball on the left, held off Sagna's challenge and crossed for Lallana, who side-footed past Szczesny to pull Southampton level at 2-2.
After the flurry of goals, the match took on a frantic pace. Ozil hit the crossbar with a chipped shot in the 64th minute following a breathtaking run through midfield. In the 76th minute, Szczesny raced off his line and outside the box to win the ball after Rodriguez had raced free behind Arsenal's defence.
Arsenal's task became more difficult when Flamini was sent off in the 80th minute for a two-footed challenge on Schneiderlin.
Southampton pushed forward in an attempt to make their numerical advantage count, and in the 87th minute, Shaw forced Szczesny into a save with a tricky cross-shot from the left. Moments later, Szczesny stopped Fonte's volleyed shot from the resulting corner.
Potentially devastating result for Arsenal. We could be 3rd by tomorrow. The psychological damage it could cause can't be underestimated.— Tom (@FourFourTom) January 28, 2014
Reaction to follow…
|Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (for Gnabry, 70')||N/A||6|
|Kieran Gibbs (for Cazorla, 86')||N/A||7|
|Lukas Podolski (for Giroud, 90')||N/A||6|
Southampton play at Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday.
Arsenal host Crystal Palace on Sunday.