Southampton: Bullet Points From The Loss At The Emirates


by The Premier League Owl

Harsh, harsh, harsh.

Southampton went down late at The Emirates tonight, with Alexis Sanchez scrambling a winner after the visitors had been reduced to ten-men by Toby Alderweireld’s tweaked hamstring.

Quick notes:

– Talking about ‘good defeats’ may sound like small mentality, but truthfully that’s what this was.  Having been beaten so soundly at the weekend by Manchester City, there was always a worry that Southampton would react badly at The Emirates – such are the perils of losing a lengthy unbeaten record.

Not a bit of it.  Ronald Koeman’s side were wonderfully well-disciplined throughout and, on the basis of the first hour of the game, they probably deserved to be in front and, without question, warranted a point in North London.

– The only Southampton player who failed to make a tackle this evening was Fraser Forster.  Statistics provide a tenuous account of games, but that particular one feels more descriptive.  Koeman’s side were relentlessly energetic when not in possession, but there was an intelligence to their pressing and defending: it’s was never rash and it never looked last-ditch or desperate. Time and again tonight, they snagged the ball from Arsenal and smartly played their way into transitional situations.

Victor Manyama gave a monstrous effort in midfield, ditto Alderweireld in his adjusted role slightly behind him, and the two centre-backs also gave very little space away to the either Danny Welbeck or Alexis Sanchez.  Going into this game, Koeman was without the hugely influential Morgan Schneiderlin.  That he also lost Jack Cork so early on was very unfortunate – but that Southampton managed to survive both problems and remain resilient made quite a statement about the collective understanding at St Mary’s.

As a mark of how well that four-player unit performed, it’s worth noting that scoring was the first notable contribution that Sanchez made to this game. It’s similarly pertinent to reference the correlation between Alderweireld leaving the field and Arsenal’s late surge of pressure: the Belgian had – after Cork succumbed to injury – sat in front of his defence and done a very passable impression of a natural holding-midfielder.  Arsenal had sporadic opportunities throughout the night, but it was only towards the end of the game that they actually starting enjoying any sort of penetration.

– To anyone who hasn’t seen much of this side in 2014/15: take the opportunity to do so and to watch their full-back tandem in action.  Nathaniel Clyne is unquestionably his country’s first-choice right-back at the moment, but Ryan Bertrand seems to have made a quantum leap in his progression since moving to the south coast on loan.

– Commentators’ habit of describing Steven Davis as ‘hard-working’ is grow progressively more reductive.  Davis is a very blue-collared footballer, but that’s not all he is: this is someone who consistently contributes in both halves of the field and who really doesn’t warrant being labelled as a grinder.  He uses the ball very smartly, he makes late runs into attacking space regularly and he’s a key part of what this team does when going forward.

It’s not a coincidence that, last Monday night when Davis was unavailable to Koeman, Southampton stuttered against Villa.  Graziano Pelle has scored a lot of goals and Dusan Tadic is a wonderful talent, but Davis is the synapse between the top of the formation and the middle of it.  He may not be their most important player or their most watchable, but they noticeably function less well without him.

by The Premier League Owl

Latest Arsenal Blog

A Timely Reminder To Arsenal Of Where Danny Welbeck Is

by The Premier League Owl

When the rumours of Danny Welbeck’s Arsenal transfer started to gain traction back in late August, there was no unanimity to the response.

Some of his soon-to-be supporters were enthusiastic, recognising that their side was desperately short of a forward and that Welbeck was a goal-scorer of some potential.

Others, however, focused less on the potential and more on the some.  Welbeck has always been a very good footballer, but how good a forward he is remains open for debate.

Over time, the percentages have shifted.  Football being football, there will always be a party line to tow – and, once Welbeck had completed his move, doubts over the England international’s economy in front of goal were blanketed by tribalism.

He is that good because now he plays for my club.

There’s no right answer to Welbeck.  Neither his defenders nor his detractors can claim victory in this debate yet and neither will they be able to for some years to come.  Through experience, we know now never to assume that efficiencies will simply melt from a player’s skill-set and that early promise doesn’t necessarily maturate on a neat, even curve.  There are no laws about talent progression and the player we see now may be the one we’re stuck with.

Since leaving Old Trafford, Welbeck has been a convenient stick with which to beat Ed Woodward and Louis Van Gaal. Every goal has been a humiliation, every half-decent showing seemingly amounting to proof that the slighty-too-sure-of-himself Dutchman and the floundering Chief Executive have made an enormous mistake.

Contrived storyline or not, last weekend was its apex.  For the first time since leaving Manchester United, Welbeck would face them.  It was headline Avalon: the time for every narrative to be crowned, the opportune moment for a goal-saluting Welbeck to be pictured running past a morose, supposedly regretful Van Gaal.

It didn’t happen.  Arsenal may have proffered talking points with their failure to pursue the game in a responsible way, but Welbeck was the back-page pun-in-waiting that got away.

From the tediously typical viewpoint of an alarmist, last weekend was an indication that Welbeck can’t be counted upon in the Premier League’s signature games.  From a more healthy perspective, however, it was a reminder that he is still a player with a long way left to travel and, maybe, that was a recognition that he needed.

At the beginning of October, Welbeck marked his first home Champions League start for his new club with a hat-trick against Galatasaray.  As notable a moment as that was for the player, it created something very dangerous: an unhealthy level of expectation.  Whenever a fairytale situation like that occurs, perspective will always be lost – and, as sure as night follows day, Welbeck’s treble attracted the Thierry Henry comparisons by the dozen.

Flattering, but unhealthy and incorrect.

That night created a perception of him which seems to have lingered ever since and it obscures the reality that this is very much a player who is still learning the game.  When a new signing arrives at a club and initially struggles, we generally accept that he is subject to the laws of transition.  When he arrives, makes an immediate impact and is instantly written about in glowing terms, however, the temptation is to assume that none of those rules apply.

That’s difficult. Essentially, Welbeck went from being a player who the Arsenal fans had high hopes for, to someone they had immediate expectations of.

Last Saturday night put the breaks on that runaway train.  Danny Welbeck played as he had done so many times for Manchester United and displayed all the raw edges which made him surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.  Chances came, chances went.  Outstanding build-up play was negated by poor decisions at the crucial moment.  It was an honest showing of his strengths and weaknesses.

Patience is sadly lacking in football, but last weekend reminded everyone that patience will be needed with Danny Welbeck and that he has to be given a degree of leeway at this stage of his career to under-perform and grow from the experience.

That can’t be a bad thing.

by The Premier League Owl

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