Southampton v Arsenal
16th December 2018
Charlie Austin scored the third Saints goal and the winner in the 85th minute
IBO Reporter : channonite
Going into this game I don't think I gave the team much chance of anything other than a hiding from a team which had gone 22 matches unbeaten in all competitions. I don't think it any exaggeration to say that home supporters have not had much to get excited about for some considerable time. In fact the last match that I saw us win was the Bournemouth game way back on the 28th April.
Given that background for his first home match, Ralph Hasenhüttl arranged for vouchers to be sent to all season ticket holders to claim a free pint of Carling at this fixture. It is touches like this that will cement his place in Saints folklore. That and winning some football matches.
We all wondered as to what formation we would see, amongst talk of Hasenhüttl re-introducing the high pressing game we all came to love during Pochettino's time as manager. On top of this was the conundrum of what on earth to do about the ever so slightly porous defence. We heard that the squads day off had been cancelled and rather than Hughes three half-days training, the players had been training every single day.
First thing that caught the eye was that there were three centre backs, Bednarek, Yoshida and Vestergaard. The wing backs were Valery on the right and Targett on the left. Given the inexperience of these two and missing Stephens, Cédric and Bertrand through injury, it was perhaps no surprise that The Hutch™ chose to go with three in the centre of defence.
The midfield comprised Højbjerg and Romeu, given the absence of Lemina through injury. With Redmond and Armstrong wide, either side of the returning Danny Ings.
The atmosphere seemed amazing and who knows if was the free pints of Carling arranged by the manager working their magic on the season ticket holders? You just sensed that this day marked the start of something new and very much better.
The players straight away were pressing, pressing, pressing. Nobody typified this more than Danny Ings, who was running about like a man possessed. Later, on MOTD2, Alan Shearer highlighted the work-rate of the players and their intensity. Arsenal were just hustled into mistakes. It was like the early days of Pochettino all over again.
In the first few minutes there was a decent chance for Arsenal, when Aubameyang got the wrong side of Valery, but McCarthy saved comfortably. The French youngster didn't let this phase him and went on to have a really good afternoon, typified by a little cameo just before the final whistle, when one of the Arsenal forwards was chasing a through ball. Valery didn't panic, but made as if he was going to hit the ball into row z, instead he shielded the ball from the player and allowed it to trickle over the line for a Saints ball. this kid is going to be good.
Armstrong then had a shot on goal, following some good approach work by Højbjerg, but it was a fairly routine save by Leno in the Arsenal goal.
Saints first goal (See, I haven't been able to say that too much this season!) was a peach. Armstrong in the centre, fed the ball out to Targett on the left wing. He looked up, saw Ings running between two defenders and planted the ball right on his head. BANG! GOAL! 1-0!
Wonderful stuff and the crowd went wild. Not only that, but The Hutch™ almost forgot himself in celebrating the goal and strayed from the technical area, we were then treated to the sight of the manager telling himself to calm down. I like this man.
However, eight short minutes later Arsenal were level, after a lovely cut back from the byline was headed past the diving McCarthy by Mkhitaryan. 1-1. Now in the recent past Saints heads would have gone down at this point, but there was none of that this time.
This "new" version of Saints was perfectly illustrated a short time later, when Aubameyang slid in to score an easy goal, only to have Bednarek appear from seemingly nowhere and take the ball right off his toe. Amazing. And there were several more examples of great defending from the Pole during the rest of the match.
Saints second goal came along then and this time it was Valery to Redmond, who then sent a lovely little chip right onto Ings head, who sent a gentle header looping over Leno's head into the rook of the Arsenal net. 2-1. It was fair to say that the home fans were loving this.
There was then another example of Saints new style defending, when Aubameyang again was put through, but McCarthy was able to palm the ball out and was then cleared by a combination of the very much improved Vestergaard and Valery.
So, half time and Saints were deservedly leading 2-1. Would they manage to avoid their trademark capitulation in the second half?
Shortly after the restart we thought we had our answer, when Romeu (looking a bit game-rusty to be honest), had his pocket picked, while dawdling on the ball and in a flash Mkhitaryan had buried it beyond McCarthy. 2-2. Bugger. Except, when you looked at the replay, you could see that the Arsenal mans shot had taken a wicked deflection off the unfortunate Vestergaard and completely wrong-footed McCarthy. Unfortunate, rather than bad defending then.
Hasenhüttl then decided to change things about, taking off the excellent Redmond for Shane Long and shortly after the double scoring Danny Ings made way for Charlie Austin.
Arsenal then had a chance to win the game, when a clever back heel from Aubameyang left Iwobi with an almost open goal, but he somehow managed to send his shot high into the stand.
It was end to end stuff now and next came the moment that Shane Long thought he had scored. Matt Targett took a corner from the left and the incoming ball was met by the head of Maya Yoshida. Somehow Leno managed to palm the ball away and in the resulting mêlée Shane Long stabbed the ball home. Everyone was busy celebrating when they noticed that the normally excellent lineswoman was flagging for offside. The replay showed that once again she was right, with Long clearly some way offside and the 'goal' was disallowed.
The play went up to the other end and in short order there was a great sliding clearance from Vestergaard, followed by an amazing point blank reaction save from McCarthy at the resulting corner. However, once again a linesman's flag was correctly up for offside and even if Arsenal had got the ball beyond McCarthy, it wouldn't have counted.
Saints were not to be denied though and breaking upfield, Højbjerg sent a slide rule pass to Long, wide on the right. Long looked to see where Austin was and sent the ball arching towards him. Leno flapped at the ball and missed. Charlie didn't and his header made the score 3-2 to Saints with just five minutes of normal time remaining. Cue pandemonium in the stadium.
The only other thing of note in the match was Armstrong being substituted deep into time added by young Tyreke Johnson for his first senior appearance for the club.
To say that the final whistle was followed by emotional scenes is an understatement. The feeling of joy and relief was just overwhelming. And Saints were no longer in the bottom three.
Man of the Match
There were several possibilities, but for me the only real choice was the forgotten man in the heart of Saints defence, Jan Bednarek. He was mighty in this match and made a mockery of the previous managers decision to not select him.
Danny Ings returned from injury to score two headed goals in the 3-2 win
35 Bednarek - Booked 51'
22 Redmond (Long 63' - Booked 90')
17 Armstrong - Booked 71' (Johnson 90'+4)
9 Ings (Austin 71')
12 Lichtsteiner (Maitland-Niles 74')
6 Koscielny - Booked 60'
2 Bellerín (Lacazette 45')
17 Iwobi (Özil 70')
Sunday 16th December
- Ings 20', 44'
- Austin 85'
- Mkhitaryan 28', 53'
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
- Southampton 34%
- Arsenal 66%
- Southampton 12
- Arsenal 13
Shots on Target
- Southampton 7
- Arsenal 4
- Southampton 4
- Arsenal 5
- Southampton 12
- Arsenal 10