It had been 232 days since Southampton last won at St. Mary’s. That roughly translates to 334,080 minutes since Saints fans have seen their team victorious at its home stadium. It took only 20 minutes for Danny Ings to connect with a brilliant ball played in by Matt Targett for a headed goal to set the tone of the day. A tone of victory.
“We played very well and were almost unlucky to only win by a goal”, says Alec Weise, admin of the United Saints of America supporters group (the) strikers put chances away which is something we’ve been missing all year”.
By the final whistle, the fans savored victory at St. Mary’s, a long awaited reward and even better as it has given Southampton a lift in the league table.
“(This game is) massive for the fans as it lifts us out of the relegation zone and gives us confidence going into the Huddersfield match next week”, says Weise.
This was no ordinary win, not by any means. It was a win over one the Premier League’s best teams. A team that has not seen defeat since August. Since then, Arsenal have impressively coasted through domestic and European play across four months; never once losing in 22 matches. Today, the Spanish tactician Unai Emery suffers only his third defeat as an Arsenal manager, and he concedes that to Southampton’s new hero, Ralph Hasenhuttl.
“Despite Arsenal’s unbeaten streak I was fairly confident given how we played at St. Mary’s against (Manchester United)”, says Weise, who has spent his fall semester abroad in England, “I didn’t expect to win but I thought we’d put in a good performance (at least).
In my previous article previewing the match, I mentioned that “a win, even if unlikely, is possible and would do much to the solidify the credibility surrounding the former RB Leipzig manager”. Hasenhuttl has accomplished just that and announced himself to the Premier League with a victory over one of its best teams.
Using his method of high pressing, he took opportunities to take the game to Arsenal’s end of the pitch and asked questions of Unai Emery’s side. Taking advantage of disconnect in the Arsenal defense, particularly with the seeming lack of fitness from veteran centreback Laurent Koscielny who made his return to Gunners’ Starting XI this match, Hasenhuttl’s Saints found the net three times, their highest single game tally this season.
In a game which 4 of the 5 total goals scored from both sides came from headers, it was Charlie Austin who found the net in the 85th minute to secure the victory for Southampton. Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno coming off his line, misjudged the cross coming in from Shane Long which left the far post exposed for Austin to bury the ball for an easy goal. This goal continues Austin’s individual success against the Gunners making it five straight games that Austin has scored against the North London team.
Impressing on the offensive side of the ball was Danny Ings, who made his return to the team for the first time in a month since scoring in a draw with Watford. Ings picked up where he left off and found the net twice from headers. The Liverpool loanee put Saints up just before halftime when he connected with a brilliant ball from Nathan Redmond after being left unmarked by Stephan Lichtsteiner. Leno could only hopelessly watch as Ings’ ball floated into the right corner of his net.
“Ings clinical finishing is something we’ve been missing up top”, says Weise, an American supporter who has attended nearly every Saints home game along with some away games this season in addition to his studies in the UK, Ings’ touch (overall) was a little rusty but he made no mistakes in front of goal”.
Defensively the Saints also impressed. Hasenhuttl opted for three centre backs in his lineup against Arsenal, selecting Jan Bednarek, Maya Yoshida and Jannik Vestergaard, despite his crucial error last week. In this match, the tall Dane appeared to make amends and put in a formidable display against an Arsenal side that kept possession for a majority of the match – nearly 66% possession belonged to the Gunners. Possessing a height advantage of the entire Arsenal team, the former Gladbach man thrived in when it came to aerial duels.
“Vestergaard won everything in the air and made some crucial challenges in 1-on-1 situations”, says Weise, impressed by the Dane’s defensive effort.
Additionally impressive was Jan Bednarek, who was a force in reducing the danger of Arsenal’s attackers. On two occasions the Polish defender thwarted the prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from finding the net.
“Bednarek made two goal saving challenges on Aubameyang. The first he got a toe on a cross that looked like was going to lead to a tap-in (which would given Arsenal the lead)”, says Weise, Second was right after Arsenal’s (second) goal when Aubameyang was through on goal and Bednarek’s challenge rushed (Aubameyang’s) shot (that) was saved by (Alex) McCarthy.”
The only man to get the better of Southampton on the day was Arsenal’s Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who beat Saints keeper Alex McCarthy on two occasions. One goal was classifully headed by the midfielder to bring Arsenal level only 8 minutes after Danny Ings broke the deadlock. The second goal came on account of some sloppiness from Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu. Rather than ridding the ball from his zone, the Spaniard attempted to retain possession only to be stripped of the ball by a joint challenge from French pair Alexandre Lacazette and Mattéo Guendouzi that would lead to second Mkhitaryan goal. The Armenian struck the ball from near the edge of the box and the ball would take a deflection of the foot of Vestergaard, who expressed visible frustration towards Romeu after the goal.
The issue of turnovers is one the still persists on the minds of Southampton fans despite victory today.
“I’m still concerned about the careless giveaways by the midfield and defence”, says Weise, “Romeu’s giveaway led to (Arsenal’s) second goal and (Matt) Targett had a few misplaced passes that lead to great chances for them”.
Nevertheless, this should not take away from the spectacularity of Southampton’s victory. Only three weeks on from a defeat to lowly Fulham, the Saints have claimed victory over a top side and have Hasenhuttl to thank.
“I’m much more confident going into Huddersfield next week. Unlike Arsenal (Huddersfield) won’t threaten as much on the counter so we will be able to attack without as much fear and control the game much more”, says Weise, “It was like a whole new squad today and it gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season”!
In my previous article, I mentioned that Hasenhuttl might still need time to impact the squad but the Austrian has proven those notions wrong as Southampton’s high tempo and high pressing play are a stark contrast from what Saints fans have seen in previous teams and was enough to win the day. The direction is only up from here.