Arsenal Home Lost 1 – 3
In those heady days when the club sat on the top of the league, realists could see that the squad wasn’t strong enough to sustain anything approaching that position, and the return fixture with Arsenal was proof. After defeating a sub-strength Gunners XI in the cup three days earlier, Saints found themselves without both first choice full backs and so drafted in Valery and Vokins, players who had started against Shrewsbury, but maybe not ready to face the rejuvenated North Londoners. Ralph may well have picked them anyway, but circumstances left him with no other choice: couldn’t move Ward-Prowse back as Romeu was missing, couldn’t move Stephens across as Vestergaard was missing (and Salisu… as usual). Romeu would have been invaluable in this game, both as cover in front of the back four, and as the ‘out’ ball for the centre backs – this point demonstrated in the first 30 seconds when Bednarek’s poor pass forward was intercepted to set up Lacazette, who was foiled by McCarthy. Within a couple of minutes, though, Saints were taking the lead down the other end: Armstrong finished a planned corner routine with a controlled half-volley. It was a false dawn as Arsenal didn’t take long to draw level, Pépé catching out Valery’s dodgy positional sense to run on to Xhaka’s pass. Southampton were struggling to contain eager attackers, but they seemed to be coming to terms with them as half time approached, with Adams forcing a good save at the other end. Then they conceded a very poor goal when the ball was moved forward from a long goal kick and Saka escaped Vokins with ease; at this point the situation was dangerous, but it became critical when McCarthy dashed out of his goal and was rounded by Saka who kept his balance to score. We know that the team’s second half performances rarely match the first, and so it proved again, although Ings came close to an individual equaliser. Ralph’s bench was strengthened by the return of Redmond, and Vokins made way for him, with Diallo moving to left back. Alas Diallo became the third full back to be found out on the night when Saka had plenty of space to collect Soares’ crossfield pass and cross for Lacazette to net from close range. Not a good night for Saints, with even Ward-Prowse failing to score from a free kick, Leno diving to his right to save.
LSSC Man of the Match: Stuart Armstrong. As ever, a goal helps.