Arsenal 2-0 Southampton: The Artur Boruc Experience

There is quite a lot about this current iteration of Southampton that is jarring to someone who started supporting when I did. The historic red-and-white stripes are gone, replaced with a Nottingham Forest-esque plain red. The defensively abject side with one superlative skill player in Matt Le Tissier is gone, a hard-pressing, hard-working colossus of a defense in its place. The old Saints boasted a solid-but unspectacular keeper in Paul Jones who was notable in his long-serving loyalty to the club. This lot have a mostly brilliant netminder notable for his vagabond tendencies.

Given all of this change, it is nice to know that some things are still rock-solid in this crazy world of ours. Long-time readers know that Celtic are my second team, and thus I am intimately familiar with The Artur Boruc Experience. He will give you many astonishing performances in a season, but you take them in the knowledge that he will cost you one or two matches thanks to some moments of high lunacy (I distinctly remember one match away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle where Celtic scored twice and still lost, Boruc badly at fault for all three Caley goals). 

Thankfully, one of those moments arrived yesterday at the Grove. Southampton, as expected, battled in the midfield and made it difficult for Arsenal to get their flowing passing football going. I could have also written that as "Southampton kicked everything that moved, with the hilariously incompetent Mark Clattenburg allowing them to get away with various shades of assault for most of the match". Still, Boruc's error gave us the breathing space we needed to focus on keeping the excellent Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert at bay, even if we never could reach top gear ourselves.

That's not to say that we didn't fashion any chances, though. Jack Wilshere's gorgeous chip from a tough angle had Boruc beaten, but bounced off the post and into the Polish stopper's hands. A few minutes later, Aaron Ramsey backheel-volleyed Mesut Ozil's cross, only for it to hit the same post that Wilshere had.

I was beginning to think that it was not going to be our day, when Boruc received a harmless backpass. He was under no immediate pressure, and even when it first got tangled in his feet he still had time to boot it out to touch and let his defense get back. Instead, he panicked, tried several Cryuff turns in his own area, only to get shouldered off the ball by Giroud. The HFB tapped into the empty net, capping off the morning's show under the big top.

As mentioned, the visitors worked hard, but they created little themselves. Lallana did have one tracer tipped over the bar by Wojciech Szczesny, but our Pole had little to do otherwise. Part of that was the Saints not finding any rhythm, but credit also must go to our midfield and the two fullbacks, all of whom put in a shift themselves.

The second half was played out with the same theme - both sides huffing and puffing without finding a way past the opposing backline. All credit to Southampton - they did an excellent job of marking Ozil and Santi Cazorla out of the game, which stifled much of our creativity. Still, Arsenal had more of the ball, and made Lallana such a non-factor that he was hauled off on the hour mark.

There were some noteworthy occurrences, though. Theo Walcott made a welcome return from injury, while Mikel Arteta couldn't run off a knock and had to be withdrawn for Tomas Rosicky. Nacho Monreal came on to shore things up with ten minutes to go.

Injury time loomed as we won a corner. We had generated zero threat on any of them, but on this occasion Rui Fonte stupidly grabbed enough of Per Mertesacker's jersey where even Clattenburg could do nothing but point to the spot. Giroud stepped up, and smashed home the penalty kick. Sharp-eyed viewers would have noticed that Boruc moved unbelievably early, so it was no surprise that the HFB's shot went to the other side of the net.

Frankly, the 2-0 scoreline probably flattered us a bit. The Saints were as defensively-solid as advertised, and our skill players did little to break them down. I mentioned that Ozil and Cazorla had off-days, but Ramsey was a bit off as well, other than the back-flick. But, to me that is actually a heartening development. Think of it this way - Arsenal could not stamp their authority on the match at home against a tough opponent, and still came away with a comfortable win.

It is too early to plan any parades, but this Arsenal team are going to be there or thereabouts when the season reaches its denouement. I promise you that.

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7 (Rosicky 7), Ramsey 7, Wilshere 7, Ozil 6 (Monreal N/A), Cazorla 6 (Walcott 7), Giroud 8

Man of the Match: This was more of a workmanlike team performance rather than one where anyone particularly stood out - so I'll go with Olivier Giroud for the two goals.