Arsenal 3 Southampton 0: Gunners brush Saints aside despite Aubameyang's axe as Lacazette, Odegaard and Gabriel score
WHO needs Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? On this evidence not Arsenal.
The Gunners barely missed their captain as they punished Southampton to put the pressure on West Ham and Manchester United in the battle for the top four.
Aubameyang was nowhere to be seen after Mikel Arteta grew tired of the Gabon striker’s behaviour and axed him completely from his matchday squad.
And the Gunners flourished in his absence, providing a cutting edge to their game that suggests they will do just fine without their £250,000-a-week superstar of Arteta sticks to his guns.
Successive defeats had knocked the wind out of the Arsenal sails, even though they began the game still just on the edge of the race for fourth spot.
And as word filtered around the Emirates of the Aubameyang issue, there was something of a strange feeling around the ground as the matches kicked off.
Arsenal themselves were slow out of the blocks and it was Southampton who seized the early ascendancy, using a high press to force their hosts into a series of mistakes.
And on another day they would have punished the Gunners for their slack play, as first Ben White bailed out Gabriel with a block to deny Adam Armstrong.
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Then on eight minutes it took a fine one-handed save by Aaron Ramsdale to beat away Arsmtrong’s shot from the edge of the area which was squeezing in the knee post.
And when James-Ward-Prose curled a 25-yard free-kick just over the top corner, Saints were well on top and sniffing the very real possibility of a surprising away win.
As Arsenal faltered with every pass, so the crowd grew more restless, not least with the side’s repeated attempts to pass the ball around the back line that looked in danger of getting them into trouble.
But that is the way Arteta wants to play football, trying to expose the high press and hope to catch out opponents by hitting them quick on the counter when they had beaten it.
On 21 minutes they did just that, to open the scoring in a manner Arteta will have been sketching out time and again on the tactics board.
Ramsdale only just avoided getting caught in possession as he fed Takeshiro Tomiyasu out on the right, and three quick passes later they had beaten the press as Martin Odegaard released Bukayo Saka down the right.
The England man had all the time to stride forward then roll a cross into the path of Alexandre Lacazette to curl his shot into the top corner.
It was a quality goal but one Arsenal barely deserved – and within five minutes they had hit Saints for a double blow.
This time fortune smiled on them as Kieran Tierney made a hash of controlling at the far post, but the ball bounced up for him to nod across the six yard box where Odegaard stole in to head home.
Until those goals, 40-year-old Willy Cabellero had not had a shot to save on his debut having signed as an emergency keeper in midweek.
But the former Chelsea man did do well to deny Arsenal a third before the break with a low block at the feet of Saka.
Opposite number Ramsdale again showed his quality early in the second half with a fine low stop to turn Nathan Tella’s shot away for a corner as Saints again showed their threat.
But around the hour mark, Arsenal hit their straps with a period of quality football that resulted in them adding a third to make the game safe.
Gabriel had already seen a 58th minute goal ruled out for offside, but the defender was not to be denied four minutes later as he beat Cabellero to meet Gabriel Martinelli’s corner with a header into the unguarded net.
Martinelli then curled a delicious shot from the edge of the area against the far post, before Tomiyasu was denied a fourth only by a plunging low save from the Southampton keeper.
When Saka fired another shot against the woodwork, it looked as though the Gunners were going to run up a huge score as Saints showed signs of being overrun.
But the visitors found it in themselves to continue their efforts to score, and had it not been for yet more inspired keeping from Ramsdale, they would have done.
The England keeper first flung himself full-stretch to turn Redmond’s shot behind that had been heading for the top corner.
And within seconds he was at it again, this time just getting a touch on Tella’s low shot from just outside the area.
Yet Saints were unable to find a way through, and while the Gunners set themselves up nicely for the visit of West Ham in midweek, it is likely to be an uneasy festive period for Ralph Hasenhuttl and his team.
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