Arsenal v Southampton
Emirates Stadium - Wednesday, 30th November 2016
> Bertrand adds a second
> Reed, McQueen and Sims all impress
> Saints now face Liverpool in the Semi-Final
IBO Reporter : jickster
Saints go into the game knowing they are 4 good performances away from silverware and although Puel has to make some changes through rotation, such is our current squad strength that it’s still a pretty strong looking lineup. Arsenal meanwhile make 10 changes from their previous game and on the whole look a lot less experienced than the Saints side, so it’s a great opportunity.
And after both sides feel their way into the game, it’s Saints that take the initiative. A magnificent pass from Yoshida is swept out to Bertrand on the left wing in space, his inviting low cross is met by Boufal whose shot is blocked, but the ball falls invitingly for Clasie on the edge of the box. He has rarely threatened the opposition goal since joining last summer, but this time he strikes the ball beautifully, thrashing it into the bottom corner to give Saints an early lead.
Arsenal look to get back into the game quickly, but Saints set themselves up solidly and make it very difficult for Arsenal to find space when they try their intricate moves. There are hints that Saints could get some joy on the counter as Long and Boufal try to break quickly when opportunities present themselves, but it’s a bit of a struggle for Saints to keep the ball and it takes about 10 minutes before we can put together another period of possession. But as time goes on Long becomes more isolated as Saints don’t manage to support him- he makes a couple of good runs where he’s crying out for someone to help him, only to find himself surrounded by Arsenal players when in a good position. The same thing happens to Boufal, who draws a foul and yellow card from Iwobi, but this is all fine while Saints are 1-0 up and Arsenal still haven’t had a proper shot with over half an hour gone.
A clumsy Yoshida foul brings him a yellow card and a flurry of set pieces for Arsenal, but they still can’t pose a serious threat to Forster. Then after 38 minutes Saints show Arsenal how it’s done. Reed hassles in the midfield to win the ball and Davis strides forward purposefully before releasing Boufal on the left of the box. He takes his time to pick out Bertrand, who takes a touch and places a low shot into the net to make it 2-0. A lovely incisive move and clinical finish, exactly the kind of thing that Arsenal have conspicuously failed to put together in the first half. Boufal starts turning on the skills as well, looking more and more confident- he wriggles out of pressure in the right corner and is unlucky not to get a free kick, then starts a wonderfully flowing move with some delightful one-touch play that ends up coming to nothing but highlights how well Saints have played in the first half as they walk into the dressing room with a deserved 2-0 lead.
Arsenal start the 2nd half more brightly, working room for Perez to get a weak shot in from a tight angle, then a sharp move sees the ball pulled back to Ramsey whose shot is saved by Forster before Saints go up the other end and a Martina cross is just too high for Long. Long then hits a powerful shot from distance that Martinez scrambles to push away. Xhaka blasts a free kick that Forster stops, as the game suddenly becomes end-to-end excitement. Van Dijk leads a charge forward that ends with Boufal working space for a shot and then Saints go close from a corner. Exciting stuff, but Saints could do with a tedious 45 minutes to be honest, the open game looks like it could turn out to suit Arsenal for a while, but things settle down again and Saints begin to look comfortable.
Meanwhile on the main telly, Martin Roberts and Larry Lamb get into an argument during their Bushtucker Trial, but this is meant to be about the football on the laptop. But to be honest, most of the 2nd half gets into a predictable pattern: Arsenal trying to push Saints back but unable to make a clear chance, maybe having a long distance shot but nothing really troubling; then Saints breaking and looking dangerous, but again unable to finish things off, Davis and Long notably going close as the game enters the closing stages, Oxlade Chamberlain shooting wastefully when Arsenal do get a clear sight of goal. Saints continue to battle tenaciously, the substitute Sims carrying on where he left off against Everton and showing strength and ability to hold the ball up when required, also almost curling in a shot from the edge of the box that forces a full length save from Martinez. He also links up brilliantly with Davis and puts in a low cross that causes havoc in the Arsenal defence before they smuggle it away.
It would be untrue to say there were no hairy moments at all as Arsenal’s attacks became more and more desperate, but it was a very professional performance from Saints who never came under any sustained pressure and if anything had the clearer chances to go further ahead. Again it’s hard to pick out individuals, but Yoshida did well and Davis was always on hand to make an interception when required or give the right choice of pass to relieve pressure. Boufal also did his bit in the first half and of course Bertrand was involved in both goals.
So, just 3 games to the trophy!
25 Jenkinson (Maitland-Niles 64')
35 Elneny - Booked 29' (Xhaka 43')
31 Reine-Adelaide (Oxlade-Chamberlain 62')
17 Iwobi - Booked 33'
9 Pérez - Booked 80'
3 Yoshida - Booked 34'
17 van Dijk
18 Reed (Højbjerg 65')
19 Boufal (Sims 66')
Wed, 30th Nov 2016
- Clasie 13'
- Bertrand 38'
Referee : Kevin Friend
Attendance : 59,013
Shots on Target