Arsenal still struggling as tricky end to season looms

Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah (centre) battles with Southampton's Oriol Romeu (left) and Yan Valery (right) at St Mary's

Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah (centre) battles with Southampton's Oriol Romeu (left) and Yan Valery (right) at St Mary's - Credit: PA

The post-international break slump continued for Arsenal as they suffered a 1-0 defeat against Southampton at St Mary's Stadium on Saturday.

The loss was the Gunners' third in a row having fallen to Crystal Palace and Brighton since the return to domestic action, with boss Mikel Arteta struggling to stop the bleeding.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta looks on during the Premier League match against Southampton

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta looks on during the Premier League match against Southampton - Credit: PA

With confidence and cohesion sparse, Arteta has scrambled to address key issues at left back, central midfield and up front, rotating his side out of a mix of desperation and necessity, but to no avail. 

Saturday’s side saw Nuno Tavares return at left back, Granit Xhaka shifted back into midfield alongside Albert Sambi Lokonga, and Eddie Nketiah come in up top with Alexandre Lacazette testing positive for Covid. 

Arsenal's Nuno Tavares (left) and Southampton's Kyle Walker-Peters battle for the ball

Arsenal's Nuno Tavares (left) and Southampton's Kyle Walker-Peters battle for the ball - Credit: PA

For all the noise around Tavares in recent weeks, after a disastrous display against Crystal Palace, the young full-back stepped up his game, showing more of the confidence we saw early in the season with his driving infield runs. 

Despite being substituted once again, this time as Arteta was chasing the game, Tavares’ performance was far closer to the level expected by the manager, and the fans, setting himself up for another appearance against London rivals Chelsea in midweek.

Up front, Nketiah handled himself respectably, stretching the Southampton defence at times and looking lively. 

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Lacazette’s total of two Premier League goals from open play has been an obvious issue for Arsenal this campaign, and whilst it is still two more than Nketiah, the Englishman’s activity off the ball may warrant a starting spot moving forwards as Arteta looks to add goals to the side.

During Arsenal’s difficult run last season, the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe to the starting line-up in a 3-1 win over Chelsea kickstarted a strong end to the season by the Gunners. This time around, however, there does not seem to be such a player waiting in the wings.

Arsenal instead are relying on their young forwards to rediscover their mojo in front of goal and after travelling to Chelsea in midweek, they host Manchester United in the lunchtime game on Saturday (12.30pm).

And with a tough run-in to follow, the Gunners' season depends on it.