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.
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. 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.
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.