Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta remains hopeful that his side can qualify for Europe this season after they won their first game since the restart of the Premier League at Southampton.
The Gunners had lost both of their previous two games, to Manchester City and Brighton, but Thursday’s victory arrests the slump, moving them up to ninth in the table.
Champions League qualification looks unlikely, but with Manchester City’s involvement in Europe still up in the air pending their appeal against a ban for breaching financial fair play, Arteta’s side could well claim a Europa League spot.
“I am always very positive,” said Arteta. “We have enough time, we have enough games left to do it.
“We had two defeats for the first time since I joined, but now we have won and it lifts the spirit, it lifts the belief.
“The calendar of the Premier League has given us is pretty tough. We have four away games and we have to recover the players now.”
The Gunners were helped along their way at St Mary’s by a dreadful error from Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy who faltered under pressure from Eddie Nketiah following a back-pass, allowing the striker to intercept his attempted ball out slot into an unguarded net.
The win was sealed late on when Jack Stephens was sent off for fouling Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the last man and from the resulting free-kick substitute Joe Willock finished after Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick struck the wall and his follow-up was parried.
It was timely boost for the Gunners, who have struggled with injuries and form since the restart.
The victory, though, was not undeserved. Prior to the goal, Nketiah had seen a close-range finish ruled out for offside and Aubameyang had crashed an angled effort against the bar.
Coming after such an impressive display in their first game back at Norwich, the result continues Southampton’s woeful inability to replicate their away form at St Mary’s.
This was their 10th loss at home this season – equalling the club record for a Premier League season, set back in 1993-94 when their were 42 games in a campaign.
With 10 points separating them and the bottom three it is very unlikely that they will get dragged into a relegation fight.
Small steps forward for Arsenal
Since the restart, the Gunners have lurched from one mini-crisis to the next – David Luiz’s calamitous display against Manchester City, injury problems galore, and a winning position thrown away at Brighton.
Two defeats from two games since the restart had already put paid to Arsenal’s already slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
It also placed them in serious danger of recording their worst league finish since 1994-95 – the season in which George Graham was sacked and they ended up 12th.
That threat is far from over but what is just a third away win in 16 fixtures this season, coming from a much more assured performance, will bring at least a small injection of confidence and calm.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, in for the injured Bernd Leno, was solid, Granit Xhaka returned effectively in midfield and Nketiah and Aubameyang were typically lively in attack.
“I asked the players to be together, to defend each other and to play for 90 minutes and that is what they have done today,” said Arteta.
“We gave the ball away very easily in the second half. They committed a lot of men forward and we had to defend but the commitment and the way they competed was really good.”
However, it would not be this current Arsenal without some shadows lurking in the background.
Full-back Kieran Tierney, who has been hampered by injury problems since joining the Gunners from Celtic last summer, limped out of the game in the second half.
Also, Matteo Guendouzi was left out of the squad entirely. While manager Mikel Arteta stated that his exclusion was down to “squad management”, he also did not entirely dismiss speculation that the Frenchman blotted his copybook by clashing with Neal Maupay at the end of the Brighton game on Saturday.
No home comforts for Saints
Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl is an animated manager at the best of times but spent much of Thursday’s game prowling the touchline with a frustrated look and sweat on his brow.
Having handed the Austrian a new four-year deal at the start of this month, the Saints recognise a man with a plan and a project worth pursuing.
His first job, though, is to rectify the disparity between their away and home results.
Away from St Mary’s they appear unburdened, pressing effectively and counter-attacking with menace, but back on the south coast they struggle to exert themselves, even without the pressure of fans in the stands.
Their display was not completely without merit but attacks tended to yield half-chances from long range for James Ward-Prowse, Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond as opposed to the kind of clear-cut ones that have enabled the likes of Danny Ings to thrive this campaign.
Ings’ one big chance of the game came in the final quarter when he was released behind the defence by a long ball forward, but his drive was parried well by Martinez.
“It is always difficult when you give away too easy goals to such an opponent,” said Hasenhuttl.
“But in the second half only we were playing, The decisions we made in the final third were not that bad and we had some good chances. It is a step forward, especially in possession.”
It may get worse before it gets better, though, for Saints. Manchester City are the next visitors to St Mary’s.
Man of the match – Rob Holding (Arsenal)
Saints top errors chart – the stats you need to know
- No team has made more errors leading to opposition goals in the Premier League this season than Southampton (10). Arsenal registered only their third away Premier League win of the season (W3 D8 L5) with all three wins coming under different managers (Emery, Ljungberg and Arteta).
- Southampton have lost more home Premier League games than any other team this season (10).
- Mikel Arteta has won as many as game in 18 matches as Arsenal manager in all competitions (W9 D5 L4) as Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg managed in 26 games combined this season (W9 D11 L6).
- Southampton have lost 10 home league matches in a season for only the second time in their history, also losing 10 in the 1993/94 season.
- Eddie Nketiah has scored six goals in 11 starts in all competitions this season for Arsenal (4) and Leeds United (2).
- Both of Jack Stephens’ Premier League red cards for Southampton have come against Arsenal, also seeing red in April 2018 against the Gunners.
- Joe Willock scored his first Premier League goal for Arsenal in his 26th appearance in the competition and with his 13th shot.
Southampton visit Watford in their next league fixture on Sunday at 16:30 BST. Arsenal are in FA Cup action this weekend, visiting Sheffield United in the sixth round on Sunday at 13:00.