Arsenal Stroll Past Struggling Southampton To Climb Into Top Four.

 Arsenal Stroll Past Struggling Southampton To Climb Into Top Four.

Barely three days since Arsenal teetered on the brink of their first crisis of the season, Unai Emery’s side suddenly find themselves back where they want to be. Thursday’s squashing of Bate Borisov guaranteed their progress in the Europa League, and this routine victory over Southampton returned them to the holy land that is the Premier League’s top four.

Champions League qualification is the primary objective for Emery this season and, as we approach the start the spring, Arsenal are right in the hunt for it. Chelsea have a game in hand, it should be said, but their struggles in the league look ever-more pronounced when compared to the relative smoothness of this victory for an Arsenal side that appears to be growing in confidence.

Early strikes from Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan guaranteed the three points as Arsenal produced some of the best football the Emirates has seen under Emery. They were quick and incisive, and they really should have put four or five goals past a Southampton side that was dreadfully slow to rise to the occasion.

“I think today we can win with a bigger difference than these two goals,” said Emery. “We need to continue in this spirit, to play with this intensity, to keep this intensity for 90 minutes. My problem is when we cannot create chances but we did not have this problem today.”

How Southampton struggled in the first half, when so many of their old problems resurfaced. They could not get close to Arsenal’s attackers, who were pinging the ball around with glee and drifting into no end of dangerous positions. The lack of intensity from Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side was verging on embarrassing at times, and there is plenty of work for the Southampton manager to do on the south coast.

Lacazette diverts the ball home for 1-0 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
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The frustration for Hasenhuttl was made worse by the fact that Southampton had created the first clear chance of the game. Nathan Redmond failed to take it, though, and Lacazette went straight up the other end to put Arsenal in front. “After this it was easy for them to play,” Hasenhuttl admitted.

Next up for Arsenal in midweek are Bournemouth, before Emery’s side travel to Wembley to play Tottenham Hotspur next weekend. This victory was therefore an invigorating start to a potentially crucial week in their season, and the sight of Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming off the bench was a sign of the formidable attacking options at Emery’s disposal when all his players are fit.

Lacazette, in particular, seemed to thrive off the responsibility of being the main attacker here. Alex Iwobi and Mkhitaryan also impressed, and there was creativity all over the pitch thanks to imaginative showings from full-backs Sead Kolasinac and Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Mkhitaryan adds the second for Arsenal CREDIT: ACTION IMAGES
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The first goal came barely a minute after Redmond had scampered in behind the home defence, firing straight at Bernd Leno when he really should have hit one of the corners. “We needed our goalkeeper,” Emery conceded. Arsenal went straight up the other end, with Lacazette back-heeling home from close range after Mkhitaryan had sliced a left-footed volley.

Southampton were causing a few problems for the Arsenal defence in these opening exchanges but the gulf in class was soon evident. Emery’s side played in delightful little bursts, playing the ball between the attackers at a speed which Southampton simply could not handle. Mkhitaryan then added the second, sliding a fine finish inside Angus Gunn’s near post after the Southampton goalkeeper had fluffed a clearance straight to the feet of Iwobi.

There were encouraging performances all over the pitch for Arsenal. Granit Xhaka was controlling the midfield, Shkodran Mustafi looked composed in defence and Lacazette was buzzing with all his usual menace in attack. The only complaint at the break, from the home fans at least, would have been that the scoreline was not more emphatic.

Lacazette should have scored his side’s third after Kolasinac, once again doing his best impression of an angry bull, barrelled into the penalty box and rolled the ball into the striker’s path. Barely five yards from goal, Lacazette somehow spooned his shot over the bar.

It all slowed down after the break, when Hasenhuttl changed his side’s shape. There was a subsequent improvement from Southampton, who went close through James Ward-Prowse’s fizzing effort from the edge of the box, but it was never going to be enough to change the course of the match. Aubameyang should have made it worse for the visitors in the dying moments, but he failed to convert a series of half-chances.

Ayomide Oyewole

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