Arsenal secured their first home victory of the season in a palpitation-inducing affair against Southampton. The Gunners were slow off the blocks and went behind to a Petr Cech own goal, but eventually recovered as Laurent Koscielny equalized with a wondrous bicycle kick and Santi Cazorla slotted in a last-gasp penalty.
Opting to rest a few players who returned from international duty, Arsene Wenger handed out starts to new signings Skhodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, and went with the pairing of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla in the middle of the park. Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka, and Olivier Giroud were among the big names that started on the bench. Alex Iwobi made a welcome return from injury and was named among the substitutes.
Southampton started the game like a ball of fire and fury, outmatching their hosts in desire, effort, and purpose. Arsenal’s midfield pairing of Coquelin and Cazorla – a pairing that has worked very well in the past – seemed out of sync, both players unsure of which roles to reprise and sending the balance awry. The verticality and penetration evident in Arsenal’s game against Watford (in which Xhaka and Cazorla started) was sorely missing here as the team often engaged in slow, plodding possession. Southampton had the king’s share of the play in the final third early on.
After testing Cech with some potshots and headers, the Saints took the lead with a lucky free-kick in the 17th minute. The Arsenal keeper did very well to get a hand on Tadic’s shot only to see it rebound off him and into the net. With the memories of the opening day loss to Liverpool still festering, the Emirates crowd feared the worst.
To their credit, Arsenal improved almost immediately after conceding. The midfield duo slowly reconciled their roles and Cazorla started having a more direct effect on the game. However, the attacking trio of Perez, Walcott, and Oxlade-Chamberlain were static and one-dimensional, expertly marshalled by Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte. Arsene Wenger’s men needed some electricity to jolt them into action.
And electricity is what they got. A corner in the 28th minute pinged around in the box before falling to Laurent Koscielny who executed a brilliant overhead kick to send it nestling into the net. The Arsenal captain for the day became their highest scoring defender in Premier League history with that strike. The rest of the half petered out as teams entered the break all square.
Arsenal continued their ascendency in the second half, seeing much more of the ball and circulating it quicker. The introduction of Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez in the 60th minute added further impetus to their game. The Chilean found himself in the box after an excellent turn and pass by Mesut Ozil, with his rising shot just missing the target.
Southampton made a few changes of their own, with Shane Long coming on to add potency on the counter. The striker was immediately amongst the chances. First he went clean through on goal after lovely interplay outside the box only to chip the ball over Cech and wide of goal. Then he headed over from close range as Redmond put in a great cross. The game was on a knife edge.
As the clock ticked down, both teams got closer without scoring. Giroud got on the end of a wonderful Cazorla cross but headed just wide. The Frenchman then slipped at a pivotal moment as a Cazorla shot ricocheted off van Dijk and sat up for him. Cech had to make a double save on the other end to prevent Arsenal from going behind, first from Højbjerg and then from a Shane Long follow-up.
In the 91st minute, as an Arsenal corner was cleared, Koscielny lay on the floor with a head injury, and the game seemed destined to end one apiece, the Gunners found salvation. Mustafi clipped in a smart ball to Giroud, who had his shirt pulled by Fonte and went down. The referee pointed to the spot, much to the outrage of the Southampton players who felt there had been a foul on Long in the build-up.
Santi Cazorla, the man who had led the Arsenal revival with his midfield drive, determination, and creativity, stepped up to take the pressure penalty and slotted it straight down the middle to beat the keeper. The whistle went soon afterwards, and Arsenal could smile about a semblance of momentum after their second win in a row.
The Gunners had gotten out of jail, and magisterial Santi had picked the lock for them.
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