On the afternoon all eyes appeared to be on the ramifications of the title race, Arsenal slipped in on Manchester United’s blindside to creep back into the top four.
Amid a hectic fixture schedule and an urgent need for points, manager Unai Emery will have been pleased with the result and some of the fluid periods of Arsenal’s performance.
At the start of an important week for Arsenal that also features the visit of Bournemouth and a trip to Tottenham, Emery made six changes from the side that overcame Bate Borisov. Mesut Ozil, so influential on Thursday night, returned to the bench and there were rests, too, for Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette races away in delight after putting Arsenal ahead after just six minutes against Southampton
Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck Arsenal’s second after quarter of an hour to confirm the victory early on
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND LEAGUE TABLE
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Leno 7; Lichtsteiner 7 (Koscielny 56, 6), Mustafi 6, Sokratis 6, Kolasinac 7; Xhaka 6.5, Torreira 6; Mkhitaryan 6.5, Ramsey 6 (Ozil 63, 6), Iwobi 7 (Aubameyang 75, 6); Lacazette 7
SUBS NOT USED: Cech, Monreal, Suarez, Guendouzi
MANAGER: Unai Emery 7
GOALS: Lacazette 6, Mkhitaryan 17
SOUTHAMPTON (5-3-2): Gunn 6; Bednarek 5, Vestergaard 5, Stephens 5 (Austin 45, 6); Valery 6, Romeu 6, Hojbjerg 6, Ward-Prowse 6, Targett 6; Armstrong 5.5 (Obafemi 45, Elyounoussi 65, 6) Redmond 5.5
SUBS NOT USED: McCarthy, Yoshida, Bertrand, Slattery
MANAGER: Ralph Hasenhuttl 6 Referee: Graham Scott 6
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In truth, this game was all but wrapped up inside 17 minutes through Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan goals. There was, however, always a sense that Arsenal were not entirely comfortable and that Emery’s side always retain the capacity to allow their opponents back into the game.
In truth, this might have transpired to be a different result had Southampton been more ruthless in the opening stages and Ralph Hasenhuttl will, also, be encouraged by the manner in which his side sought to claw their way back into the match in the second-half.
This defeat leaves Southampton in the relegation zone and a point adrift of safety. This midweek home fixture against Fulham is now surely a must-win game and will go a long way to shaping the destiny of Hasenhuttl’s team.
Certainly, Southampton will need to defend with greater authority if they intend to stay in the Premier League this season but do, also, need to find a consistent source of goals. Danny Ings was absent through injury and Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong started as the most advanced of Southampton’s players but neither are natural goalscorers. This essential weakness emerged after only five minutes.
Lacazette hooks home from Mkhitaryan’s shoot with just six minutes played as Arsenal start in impressive fashion
Just 11 minutes later and the game is effectively over as Mkhitaryan slashes the ball into the goal from Alex Iwobi’s cross
James Ward-Prowse and Lucas Torreira contest for the ball in a full-blooded challenge in midfield during the match
Arsenal’s defence, as is still too often the case, was high and over-exposed on home turf and Redmond sped in behind. He jinked inside Skhodran Mustafi to provide a clear sight of goal inside the penalty area but his powerful effort was directed straight at the goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Yet it has often been the case for Arsenal in home matches that they have conceded several clear-cut chances but then demonstrated the greater clinical edge in front of goal. So it was again here.
Arsenal immediately went down to the other end, where Alex Iwobi crossed, Henrikh Mkhitaryan instinctively volleyed towards goal and Lacazette hooked into the goal inside the six-yard box. Southampton players stood with their arms raised and eyes fixed on the assistant referee but replays showed that defender Yan Bednarek had played the forward onside.
Southampton actually responded rather well initially. A curling Matt Targett cross was headed back across goal by Redmond and then Targett himself had a rasping strike well saved by Leno.
Unai Emery cut an animated figure on the touchline as his side registered a comfortable win at the Emirates Stadium
Second-half substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hammers an effort at goal as Arsenal struggle to add to their advatange
Saints stopper Angus Gunn was at fault for Arsenal’s second goal but produced several smart saves to keep the hosts at bay
Yet as Southampton’s outfield players sought to find a way into the game, their goalkeeper slipped up. Angus Gunn skewed a clearance, landing on his backside in the progress, and the ball fell to Iwobi, who crossed well and Mkhitaryan arrived to slash the ball into the goal.
Southampton were left wondering how a match they had started rather well had unravelled so quickly and particularly in such soft and scruffy circumstances.
Briefly, Arsenal threatened to run up a tennis score. Lacazette should have added three more before the interval. First he headed straight at Gunn when he met a corner with a smart back-header.
Then a sharp and high-paced raid from Sead Kolasinac freed the French forward again and Lacazette struck low but straight at the feet of Gunn and he also blazed over from pointblank range.
Having started against BATE Borisov in the Europa League, Mesut Ozil appeared as a second-half substitute for Arsenal
At this point in the game, Southampton appeared likely to go under and at half-time, Hasenhuttl required remedial action. He changed shape and introduced Charlie Austin and Michael Obafemi. His team responded well and James Ward-Prowse drilled wide after Granit Xhaka’s errant pass across the centre of the pitch.
Yet Arsenal could afford to play the second period in third gear, briefly breaking into more delicate patterns and weaving further chances, most notably when a lovely Ozil flick released Aubameyang, whose dangerous cross was almost turned into his own goal by Jan Vestergaard.
The victory sends Arsenal back into the top four Manchester United shared the points with Liverpool at Old Trafford
Despite a valiant second-half display, Southampton remain inside the Premier League relegation zone by a point