Southampton vs. Arsenal: Winners and Losers from Premier League Game
Two defensive mistakes proved to be Arsenal's undoing, as Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic scored on either side of half-time to ensure the home side went away with all three points. Both goals appeared to be easily preventable, although the Saints created a number of other clear-cut opportunities as Arsene Wenger's side looked sluggish and short of ideas in the final third.
The result means Southampton move three points ahead of the Gunners in the Premier League standings.
Click on for some winners and losers from the game.
Loser: Wojciech Szczesny
He was not the only culprit in Arsenal's two defensive calamities (Laurent Koscielny was equally culpable for the first goal), but Wojciech Szczesny was the most visible offender as Arsenal threw away a solid start with two individual mistakes as they slumped to defeat.
Szczesny's first mistake came in the first half, as he rushed from his line after Sadio Mane had slipped past Koscielny into the box. There was never going to be much the goalkeeper could do with the situation once he left his line, although the winger did brilliantly to exploit the mistake enough to score a fine goal.
In the second half Szczesny floundered again, as he kicked the loose ball straight at Dusan Tadic, who slotted home calmly from close range. You could understand why Szczesny went with his feet (Steven Davis' rifled cross had rebounded off Mathieu Debuchy's legs towards him), although it is doubtful whether or not the referee would have actually whistled for a backpass even if the goalkeeper had picked it up.
Even so, the Pole had enough time to make a far better clearance with his feet than he ultimately managed.
"It was a game where we were in control until the first goal," Wenger said afterwards (per the Southern Daily Echo). “We made two big mistakes, that was the difference, but their goalkeeper kept them in the game.
“Southampton defended well, but we had chances...Southampton are a good side but they were beatable today.”
After these latest errors, Szczesny's No. 1 spot surely must be under real threat. He has already escaped one risky period this season, when his understudy David Ospina suffered an injury at the same time as him—preventing Colombia's World Cup goalkeeper from pressing his starting claim as the callow Emilio Martinez played instead.
Ospina is still to return from his injury problems; when he does, however, surely he will be given at least a couple of games to impress as Szczesny continues to be so maddeningly inconsistent and unreliable.
Winner: James Ward-Prowse
It is surely only a matter of time before James Ward-Prowse notches his first Premier League goal. The teenager had at least four clear-cut chances in front of goal on Thursday—that he did not score one of them indicates he perhaps still lacks a bit of composure, not that there is any problem with his finishing ability.
Thrown into the starting lineup because of other injuries in midfield, Ward-Prowse was one of the game's defining players, as he (along with Steven Davis) provided energy, control, vision and movement in the middle of the park.
With Arsenal fielding the unfamiliar defensive midfield pairing of Calum Chambers and Francis Coquelin, Ward-Prowse and Davis took full advantage to cut the opposition midfield to ribbons time and time again with their passing and running.
He is not even the latest Southampton academy graduate off the production line now that Harrison Reed is coming through, but after an enforced absence through injury, Ward-Prowse showed in this performance he is ready to kick on in a big way in 2015.
Loser: Laurent Koscielny
Laurent Koscielny endured a horrible individual display on Thursday. Clearly to blame for Southampton's opener (along with Szczesny), he would have then been single-handedly to blame for Saints' third if Dusan Tadic had successfully managed to turn home the Frenchman's woeful back pass.
Not since his first stuttering steps in English football has Koscielny been such a liability for his team. Of course, it is worth pointing out he has been (and pretty clearly still is) dealing with a chronic Achilles problem, while he has also had a hamstring problem in recent weeks.
Koscielny presumably needs a long rest, but Arsenal's lack of other options means Wenger cannot afford to give it to him. It is a prison of the club's own making, and against Southampton they paid a significant price for it.
Winner: Ronald Koeman
As he raised his fists in a combination of relief and joy at the final whistle, it was clear exactly how much this result meant to Ronald Koeman. His Southampton side have not enjoyed the best of luck or performances against the league's biggest sides over the last month, but this was a deserved victory that should convince many of the players—and their manager—that they can go toe-to-toe with anyone.
Yes, Arsenal were undermined in a couple of areas by injuries and suspensions, but Saints had similar problems. Unlike the visitors, however, Koeman's side managed to retain much of their usual defensive solidity and attacking impetus—putting themselves in a position to capitalise on the individual errors when they arrived.
After a rocky patch, Southampton are again out on their own in fourth position. Maintaining that will be difficult, but this result will imbue them with plenty of confidence.
Afterwards, Koeman told Sky Sports:
Maybe the best [win] so far this season. Against a strong team, but it was well deserved. I think we had to score more goals. ... We had to kill the game off after the 2-0 in the second half, but the team organisation was outstanding.
I had a good feeling about the team organisation during the game. It was difficult for them to create. We had a lot of spirit, a lot of pressing. They had a lot of ball possession, but they did not create a lot. That was the key today.
Loser: Olivier Giroud
Presumably Olivier Giroud watched this game from afar feeling increasingly uncomfortable as events unfolded. Throughout the 90 minutes, it was clear Arsenal's biggest problem was their lack of attacking threat. Alexis Sanchez tried to carry the load as much as possible, but with no one able to stretch the defence alongside him he was often carrying out a thankless task.
While Danny Welbeck's absence could not be helped (the striker is still injured), Giroud's was completely avoidable. That red card against Queens Park Rangers for a silly head-butt at Nedum Onuoha has come back to haunt Arsenal now: Giroud would have been a valuable weapon to have in this game, a player to change its course just as he did during the earlier league meeting between the two at the Emirates.
Instead, Arsenal lacked an aerial threat in the final third throughout the game, and in the second half Wenger was reduced to bringing on teenager Chuba Akpom as he sought an attacking spark—with Giroud out and Welbeck injured, Akpom was about the only striking option he really had left.
The Frenchman played no part in this contest, but he should surely share some of the blame for the eventual defeat. His inconsiderate actions earlier in the festive period left his side to compete without a hugely valuable asset.