Southampton 1-1 Arsenal: New Year's Hangover

This was one of those games where the play on the field looked a lot like we all felt. Somehow, a small minority of the usual group made their way to the Pig through bleary, hungover eyes to watch this turgid New Year's Day fare. The difference was that a little hair of the dog and some greasy food got us back to normal by the second half - Arsenal never got going and made a mediocre opponent look brilliant.

However, I don't think you can fault the manager for the initial team selection. The starting XI was unchanged from the Newcastle match because when you put seven past a decent side like that, there isn't much reason to change, is there? While some in that selection have an excuse to be knackered, like Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, there are likewise players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who haven't started that many matches and have less reason to have been as sluggish as they were.

The first few minutes were far livelier than what would follow, Arsenal in particular looking sharp and purposeful on the ball. Unfortunately, much of the chances the Gunners created were from wide crosses. It's funny - we did little other than get wide and cross when the diminutive Theo Walcott played as the lone striker, but tried to keep it on the floor once Olivier Giroud came on in the second half.

This team, sometimes...

That initial drive from the men in the horrid purple atrocity of a shirt sputtered and then deserted them entirely as the hosts got more comfortable. Wojceich Szczesny had to be alert to sweep up one loose ball, but not much else was happening. The pitch was truly awful (I imagined they had just harvested the potatoes off of it about 30 minutes prior to kick-off), and both teams suffered in their attacking play as a result. That is not to excuse some of the worst performers on the day, though. Bacary Sagna in particular may have had his worst match in an Arsenal shirt, with passes misplaced everywhere and a few defensive wobbles.

Perhaps the worst thing about the first half was that we never tested the returning Artur Boruc in the Southampton goal. He hasn't played in a few months, and the rust was evident. He dropped several crosses and badly miskicked a clearance, all before the game was 15 minutes old. Any sustained pressure on him would likely have forced a mistake (Full disclosure: Celtic is my second team and has been from day one - so, I know the Artur Boruc Experience quite well). 

No one had a more unfortunate opening half-hour than poor Jack Wilshere though, as he got kicked in the swingers by one of their lot. It looked accidental, but you wouldn't trade places with him, that's for sure. The worst was that moron Tommy Smyth wittering on about how it wasn't a foul - bloody hell, it's a 5-minute break for a UFC fighter if it happens to them, but it's not a foul in football? Time to get back on your meds, mate.

That digression aside, Lukas Podolski was another who contributed almost nothing. I say almost because he did help gift Southampton the game's opening goal in the 34th minute. He started the panic with a misplaced square ball across the face of our penalty area. One of our center-halves did clear it as far as Sagna, who only needed to put his foot through the ball to get it out of there. He could only scythe it a few feet in front of him, right to the waiting Gaston Ramirez. The Saints man made no mistake, lashing a low shot past the surprised Szczesny to give his team the lead.

As it turns out, the best Arsenal attacker on the field was Guly do Prado, the Southampton left winger. He was only playing because of the injury to the excellent Adam Lallana, so we kind of fractally got lucky there. Walcott took a free kick by the right sideline, this being the first instance in the game where I remembered he was on the field. He sent in a decent ball, but with no one near him do Prado should have dealt with it. Hell, he could have done nothing and it would have went wide. Instead, his attempt to replicate Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon resulted in one of the more comical own-goals you'll see all season...or any other season for that matter.

Hell of a finish, though.

All of us were hoping for some improvement or even a little more desire in the second half, but if anything the Gunners were worse after the interval. There was no cohesion and little in the way of movement off the ball. Stasis is the word that comes immediately to mind. The hosts, on the other hand, broke forward when they could and could have taken the lead just before the hour. First, do Prado's long-range effort was palmed away by Szczesny. The Pole had to be even sharper off the corner, as Sagna nearly turned it into his own net. Only an astonishing reflex save prevented us from going 2-1 down.

Directly after, Podolski was mercifully withdrawn for Olivier Giroud. I had thought during the first half that the match sorely needed the Frenchman's size and strength, but in the end nothing changed. The service continued to be woeful, but Giroud also never quite got into the rhythm of the match either.

Walcott did finally get our first shot on target, though. The less said about how it was only in the 70th minute and directly at Boruc, the better.

Up the other end, the Saints thought they had taken the lead after Ramirez had one in the net (thanks to a badly missed header by Laurent Koscielny), but replays showed he was clearly offside. Honestly, it would have been what they deserved for their clear domination of the second half.

Soon after, Arsene Wenger ensured that we wouldn't get all three points when he took off Cazorla and the Ox, and replaced them with Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey. I won't belabor the point, but when those are some of the few options you have off of the bench, your squad depth is not remotely good enough. And, who does Tomas Rosicky have to bribe to get a game these days? This game would have been perfect for him!

Instead, Arsenal continued to ineffectually do...well...whatever it was they were doing. Meanwhile, Southampton's intentions about holding on to the point they had were made clear when they subbed off Ramirez.  They had a couple of long-range efforts saved by Szczesny, while Giroud could have done better with one headed chance he had late on.

So, two more points dropped against relegation fodder, then. I think this is one that we will look back on a month from now, much like the 0-0 with the now-reeling Aston Villa, and wonder why it is that we can't break these teams down when the rest of the league does so for fun.

This club simply cannot afford another quiet January transfer window.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 6, Sagna 4, Arteta 7, Wilshere 7, Podolski 5 (Giroud 6), Cazorla 6 (Ramsey 6), Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Gervinho 6), Walcott 5.

Man of the Match:  Since I can't give it to Guly do Prado, then Wojceich Szczesny it is.

Bonus Content:  Not counting the above ratings, these are the half-season overall ratings from the Modern Gooner.  (After the person's name is their number of games - sub appearances in paraentheses, the average rating and then the number of MOTM awards).


Wojceich Szczesny:  13 - 6.92 - 0
Vito Mannone:  13 - 6.46 - 2 (yes, really)
Damian Martinez:  2 - 6.00 - 0


Per Mertesacker:  22 - 7.05 - 3
Carl Jenkinson:  14 - 6.73 - 0
Bacary Sagna:  12 - 6.67 - 0
Kieran Gibbs:  16 (1) - 6.65 - 0
Thomas Vermaelen:  24 - 6.46 - 1
Laurent Koscielny:  10 (3) - 6.36 - 0
Johan Djourou:  2 - 6.00 - 0
Andre Santos:  5 (4) - 5.43 - 0


Santi Cazorla:   25 - 7.16 - 4
Mikael Arteta:  24 - 6.96 - 4
Jack Wilshere:  11 - 6.91 - 0
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain:  11 (7) - 6.82 - 1
Andrei Arshavin:  2 (8) - 6.78 - 0
Francis Coquelin:  9 (10) - 6.56 - 0
Aaron Ramsey:  10 (13) - 6.52 - 0
Tomas Rosicky:  1 (3) - 6.33 - 0
Gervinho:  14 (4) - 6.27 - 2  (yes, really)


Lukas Podolski:  23 (1) - 7.00 - 1
Theo Walcott:  10 (9) - 6.95 - 4
Olivier Giroud:  14 (9) - 6.65 - 0


Nico Yennaris:  1 - 8.00 - 1
Thomas Eisfeld:  0 (1) - 7.00 - 0
Abou Diaby:  6 - 6.83 - 0
Emmanuel Frimpong: 1 (1) - 6.50 - 0
Jernade Meade:  1 (1) - 6.50 - 0
Serge Gnabry:  1 (3) - 6.33 - 0
Marouane Chamakh:  2 (2) - 6.25 - 0
Sebastian Squillaci:  1 - 5.00 - 0
Ignasi Miquel:  2 - 5.00 - 0
Martin Angha:  1 (1) - 5.00 - 0