They say the true mark of a title contender is when you can obtain victory whilst playing well below par.
Well, if that is the case, then we should be in contention come May.
For fits and bursts, our familiar incisive, intricate passing was on display, but for the majority, Arsenal couldn’t get into top gear.
The highlight though? Surely a piece of skill more at home in a world class strikers locker. This time though, it was Laurent Koscielny who pulled out a bicycle kick of epic proportions to haul his misfiring team level – what a birthday present.
There were many facets to this game, but here are five things we can take from this performance that stood out within the 90 minutes:
Debut boys need some work
Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez – who was also celebrating his birthday along with captain Koscielny – both started the game, but what was apparent was that they need time before we will see the fruits of their undoubted talent. Mustafi at times showed his strength but our whole defence struggled as our emphasis after conceding was on attack. Lucas did well with possession, but had precious little to work with in attack. They will get better as the season progresses, and by no means a bad first game for either.
Cazorla shows how vital he is
The little Spaniard was again named in central midfield, but this time his partner was Francis Coquelin. The partnership has little going for it – last season was evidence enough – but Santi kept our presence alive on his own through his invention, awareness and tenacity. Coquelin has lost none of his defensive skills, but his growing tendency to float to the final third and leave his post is becoming a problem. Cazorla was a fitting choice to take the penalty, even if his spot-kick record is chequered to say the least. The little man did well, and Granit Xhaka has a brilliant partner for midweek, or maybe even the season. His rivals need to step up.
Mitigating factors were telling – as well as poor form
The game after an international break is always trying, and Arsene Wenger summed it up perfectly when he said that the win is important and nothing else after a break in domestic play. With Ozil, Giroud, Koscielny and Mustafi still breathing hard after their exploits for their respective countries, and Alexis being sapped after playing for Chile, it would be tough going to overcome a team fast becoming a bogey side. The bottom line though, is that at times we were far from good enough. Stilted play, poor passing and non existent pressing meant that the Saints were far too comfortable. The training ground beckons.
Playing the blame game is futile
Southampton’s goal had more than a touch of the fortuitous about it. Petr Cech pulled off a great save from a free kick that should never have been awarded, and tipped it onto the crossbar. The ball cannoned off the woodwork and onto the stricken Cech, and bobbled over the line. For some to then blame Cech is nothing short of preposterous. He kept us in the game at times as we stretched ourselves for a winner, and yet at times, social media were reeling out stats that highlighted our becapped keeper was on the wane. If you will excuse this fan for completely, wholeheartedly believing in last seasons golden glove winner, then that would be grear. Cech is still one of the best.
The Ox searching for consistency
We are painfully aware of what Oxlade-Chamberlain can do, which makes his lack of end product sometimes frustrating. He is never lacking in endeavour, and he is capable of winning games, but if he could just attain a level where he influences games regularly, then he could be a great asset. This season will tell much on where he stands.
No Alexis and Giroud in the side, as well as dynamo Granit Xhaka, a couple of days training, and we grab three points. Perhaps this is one of those games that we have to overlook the frustration and the failure to pass our way out of trouble. This game was all about the end product, and we got our hands on it, no matter how close we came to failure.
Manchester City won again, and Chelsea have a game in hand to match them. A win after dropping five points in three games was the raison d’etre for this game, and we can look to Paris on Tuesday with a renewed vigour.