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by Paul Chronnell at Emirates Stadium
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Premier League: Arsenal 6 Southampton 1
Arsenal may have conceded their first goal of the season, but nobody at the Emirates was complaining after the Gunners maintained their unbeaten start to the campaign with a ruthless dismantling of Southampton.
Four goals to the good inside 40 minutes, Arsenal’s attacking play against a hopelessly outclassed Saints defence was scintillating as summer signings Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla again pulled the strings.
But it was Ivorian forward Gervinho, surprisingly chosen to lead the line, who took most of the plaudits for a two-goal display that gives Arsene Wenger another attacking option.
Two own goals, a sumptuous free-kick from Podolski and a late Theo Walcott effort completed the rout and, while nobody in these parts is about to forget Robin van Persie, this was certainly a day when his absence was relegated to the back of supporters’ minds.
The win pushes the Gunners up in to the top four, and while a trip to Manchester City next Sunday will be a far better guide to Arsenal’s title chances than this game, this has been an encouraging start to the season.
At the heart of it all, once again, was the little Spaniard Cazorla, who looks so comfortable in red and white it is as if he has been here four years not four games.
Wenger had had a few decisions to make before the game, not least in goal where he decided that Wojciech Szczesny was ready to return from a rib problem and Vito Mannone, who had proved an able deputy in keeping clean sheets at Stoke and Liverpool, returned to the bench.
As expected, the action was largely at the other end early on. In fact, it was something of miracle it took the Gunners 10 minutes to take the lead such was their superiority.
This was Southampton’s first visit to the Emirates and their players seemed as disorientated as some of the supporters probably had been given the last time they came to N5 Arsenal were playing at Highbury.
Time and again Arsenal raided down the flanks in the opening moments. Gervinho was supported by Podolski on the left, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and Cazorla tucked in behind and it was a potent mix. Southampton simply couldn’t live with Arsenal’s movement in the early exchanges.
Podolski had already warmed Kelvin Davis’s gloves with a long-range effort when his pass released Kieran Gibbs, and although the left-back’s cross was stopped on the line by Jos Hooiveld, the big Dutch centre-back’s next touch was a heavy one and it knocked the ball over the line.
Hooiveld’s miserable day was completed when he was substituted on 28 minutes, but within 10 minutes he might have been reflecting that the bench wasn’t a bad place to be.
Arsenal simply ran riot for the rest of the half. First, after Oxlade-Chamberlain had been hacked down, Podolski stepped up to curl a delightful free-kick over the wall and under the crossbar for 2-0.
Then Mikel Arteta’s chipped pass released Gervinho and the Ivorian dashed into the Southampton box before smashing a right-footed drive inside Davis’s near post. For Wenger, who had gambled in playing the former Lille man at centre-forward, it was vindication.
Southampton’s defenders were looking at each other in desperation, but two minutes later they didn’t know where to look as Gibbs again raided down the left and crossed and this time the right-back Nathaniel Clyne put through his own goal, his attempted clearance looping unluckily over Davis and into the net.
Arsenal were rampant, and Southampton were begging for the half-time whistle. But then Szczesny cheered them up by coming for a cross that he didn’t need to and dropping the ball at the feet of Daniel Fox, the left-back who had endured an horrendous first half, who gleefully smashed into the net despite the desperate attention of Per Mertesacker on the goal-line.
Wenger looked furious, and not just because it was the first goal Arsenal had conceded this season. It had to happen some time, of course, but the sloppy manner of it will have greatly disappointed the manager, and it also deflated the Emirates crowd a little after what had been an otherwise glorious first half.
The flip side was that it would perhaps guard against any second-half complacency, although with Montpellier on Tuesday in mind, Wenger was probably planning on key players making way long before the finish.
But a packed Emirates was not thinking about Tuesday, they wanted more goals and there was every reason to expect them.
Oxlade-Chamberlain continued to give his former club a torrid time, and Cazorla saw an effort blocked at the far post on the hour mark as the game became increasingly stretched.
Wenger made his first change in bringing on Aaron Ramsey for Francis Coquelin, who had enjoyed a tidy if unspectacular game alongside Arteta in central midfield. It was perhaps the potential of Coquelin that swayed Wenger from re-entering the transfer market for a defensive midfielder last month, so it was another reason for the Gunners boss to feel satisfied.
In truth Wenger could do little wrong. Within moments of coming on Ramsey had skipped on to a Cazorla pass, twisted past a defender and rolled a shot against the far post, which Gervinho tapped in for his second of the day.
That was the signal for Wenger to start thinking about Tuesday’s trip to France, and off came Gervinho and Podolski to be replaced by Walcott and Olivier Giroud respectively.
Walcott added the sixth goal, pointedly refusing to celebrate against the club where he started his career, and Arsenal’s day was complete.
They head to Montpellier in good heart, but Wenger will also be thinking ahead to next Sunday and a visit to the champions City. A win there and people really could start believing in a title challenge.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Coquelin (Ramsey, 68), Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski (Giroud, 75), Gervinho (Walcott, 75).
Subs not used: Mannone, Koscielny, Andre Santos, Arshavin.
Southampton: K Davis, Clyne, Hooiveld (Yoshida, 28), Fonte, Fox, Puncheon, Ward-Prowse, Schneiderlin, S Davis (Ramirez, h-t), Lallana, Lambert (Rodriguez, 76).
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Richardson, Mayuka, Chaplow.
Referee: Kevin Friend