A draw will feel like a loss for both Southampton and Arsenal even though the latter were two goals down with two minutes to play. The pressure is taking its toll and a win at the Etihad is necessary if the Gunners want to claim their first league title in 19 years.
An alarming number of red flags emerged during Arsenal’s dramatic 3-3 draw against Southampton.
After being pegged back from commanding winning positions two weeks in a row, the Gunners needed to show they are not caving under the title race pressure and going 2-0 down after 14 minutes against the team bottom of the Premier League showed that they are doing just that.
It was an extremely worrying start to a game Arsenal were expected to comfortably navigate, which meant that even if they recovered to win it would have been a concerning performance.
Rob Holding’s presence in the team changes things for Arsenal. The drop-off from William Saliba is enormous and worrying for Mikel Arteta. Holding over Saliba gives the other team confidence, allows them to press higher than they would normally be able, and gives Arsenal less dominance playing out of the back.
The English centre-back might not have been at fault for any of Southampton’s goals, but his lack of press resistance and inaccurate long balls allowed the visitors to punish the league leaders.
With Granit Xhaka out due to illness, Fabio Vieira stepped into the midfield and had a night to forget; he wasn’t the only one. Aaron Ramsdale assisted Carlos Alcaraz for the opening goal with a horrible pass intended for Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Magalhaes was all over the place as Alcaraz slipped in former Gunners forward Theo Walcott to score a trademark goal, leaving the Emirates crowd stunned.
Zinchenko called a post-goal huddle to try and work out what the hell was going on, with Gary Neville left dumbfounded on Sky Sports co-commentary duty.
Arsenal did respond through Gabriel Martinelli, who thrashed Bukayo Saka’s pass into the back of the net to galvanise his teammates and the home crowd.
Martinelli and Saka were the only good players for Arsenal in that first half. They had their opposition full-backs on toast from the word go and both helped Romain Perraud and Kyle Walker-Peters into the referee’s book with identical fouls.
Wingers aside, Gabriel Jesus did not look sharp, Ramsdale, Zinchenko and Gabriel were all left red-faced by the Southampton goals, Vieira was poor and Holding was out of his depth. Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard were sloppy in possession. This was not the same Arsenal we have seen for the majority of this season. At least they wouldn’t be surrendering a 2-0 lead for the third game in a row.
The vast majority of the second 45 minutes went exactly as expected. Alcaraz was substituted at half-time despite having a goal and assist before ending his first half with a goalline clearance. Ruben Selles brought on Lyanco to add another central defender to the equation.
Arsenal dominated possession while Southampton sat every player behind the ball. There wasn’t even much attempt to counter attack. The bus was well and truly parked and it only took Arteta 10 minutes to bring off Vieira for another forward in Leandro Trossard.
Arsenal couldn’t create much and Southampton took their first and only chance of the second half. They won a corner after Partey was once again caught on the ball. Said corner was won at the front post and perfectly directed into the path of Duje Caleta-Car, who had all the space he needed to head the ball into the back of the net.
Zinchenko has been praised for his incredible ability on the ball, but he is clearly a player who can be exposed defensively and he was the man who allowed the Croatian international all of that space to silence the home crowd once again.
The home players looked deflated after going 3-1 down – until the 88th minute when Odegaard scored a sublime goal. This gave them a bit of a kick up the bum before the starboy himself, Saka, scored to level. The Emirates erupted after he latched onto Reiss Nelson’s rebounded shot. Nelson is going to be an Arsenal legend having played a handful of minutes this season at this rate.
Eight minutes of added time would have felt like 80 to the Southampton players, while Arsenal were hoping for a next-goal-wins scenario. Arsenal did come bloody close to getting another and it is probably for the best they didn’t. The Emirates would not have survived it.
The Gunners might have come from behind to display more signs of being mentality monsters, but the red flags from this performance in their easiest fixture – on paper – in the run-in is a huge cause for concern.
Giving themselves no option but to win at the Etihad is less than ideal. Arsenal don’t have any momentum going into this daunting fixture, while Manchester City are on top of the world. Unless Sheffield United knock them out of the FA Cup that is.
Friday night is obviously all about Arsenal and their third draw in a row amid the pressure of fighting for the title, but Southampton were excellent and will be heartbroken to leave the capital without all three points.
This result might show that Arsenal do not have what it takes to reach their ultimate goal, but it has given evidence that Saints are able to reach theirs. Win or draw, Ruben Selles’ side were given the shot in the arm they need to avoid relegation to the Championship.