Southampton 0-2 Arsenal: Tactical flexibility helps steady Gunners to a solid victory
By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)
Boy, It feels good to be writing a match review about an Arsenal victory. Finally, after 110 days without it, the winning feeling is back. One goal in each half helped us to an uncharacteristically positive performance at St. Mary’s. A tactical masterclass from Mikel Arteta was key to the victory.
The line-up suggested that Arsenal would be returning to the 4-3-3 they have adapted to since the Premier League’s resumption. It seemed Xhaka would be deployed in a regista role with Saka and Ceballos either side of him. Whilst this was the case at some points of the game, on other occasions, the original midfield setup was completely modified.
How did this occur? Well, Saka, who started as a LCM, was allowed to drift wide and operate in a wing-back role. To his right, Granit Xhaka controlled the midfield alongside Dani Ceballos, while Hector Bellerin helped out in the middle through an inverted-wing back role.
Behind him, Kieran Tierney’s aptitude to be deployed in a defensive system was clear for all to see. He slotted in as something of an auxiliary left-sided centre-back whilst Shkodran Mustafi played in a similar role on the opposite flank. All the while, a Rob Holding remontada occurred between the makeshift wide-centre-backs as he controlled Arsenal’s defensive line to great effect.
Holding’s brilliant performance in defence meant that he was correctly rewarded through a man of the match award. 8 clearances, 2 blocked shots and 100% of his aerial duels won represented an impressive performance from the Englishman. Consistent game time is the key now for Holding. If the staff at Arsenal can keep his match sharpness up, we could see exactly why many have tipped him to be William Saliba’s long-term partner in defence.
Going forward, we looked a different side to the one which took on Brighton on Saturday. On the left wing, Aubameyang was causing problems all game and Emi Martinez’s distribution proved to be a crucial component of our offensive play. Arteta recognised that Southampton’s high line could be exposed and the likes of Auba, Nketiah and Pépé played on this weakness all game. A perfect example of how our tactical flexibility helped us out in this one.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean there weren't any causes for concern for Arteta. Aubameyang has now gone four games without a goal, his longest barren run in the league in an Arsenal shirt to date. On the opposite side, Nicolas Pépé really struggled to influence the game. Even though we looked solid at the back, it was a shame to see that our attacking threat completely diminished in the second half. Still, we shouldn’t complain, a win is a win.
Arteta will be absolutely delighted right now. Everything that he has been working on since he came in paid off tonight. Our two goals exemplified the sharpness within our game, we looked a real threat on the break with our pace and in defence we looked secure and confident on the ball, limiting the Saints to no clear cut opportunities. A deserved 3 points for Arsenal tonight.
Next up, we take on Sheffield United and it’s crucial that we pick up some momentum heading into a difficult spell. It’s great that we can take some confidence into that game following a reassuring performance from Mikel Arteta’s men at St. Mary’s. Top work from Arsenal this evening.