Arsenal enjoyed a productive day in the sun after waiting an age for the international break to finish, running out comfortable 6-1 winners over Southampton at the Emirates Stadium.
The home side made a stunning start to the match, quick out of the blocks with plenty of intent resulting in a passing game camped in Southampton’s half. Left back Kieran Gibbs’s angled shot caused chaos in the Saints’ defence on 10 minutes, forcing centre back Jos Hooiveld to tap into his own net.
The move which led to the goal was sensational, with Podolski scrapping for the ball in midfield, regaining his balance and then surging towards goal, before laying off Gibbs on the left to unleash his shot. Twenty minutes later, Podolski would sparkle again, nailing a thumping free kick from 30 yards to double Arsenal’s lead.
That free-kick sparked a purple patch reminiscent of the title-winning Wenger teams of old, with two more goals coming within the following six minutes. First, Mikel Arteta played a beautiful chip over the defence to the onrushing Gervinho, who took a touch and slammed the ball past the keeper at the near post. The pass from Arteta was superb, and it was matched by some excellent composure (for a change!) from Gervinho to assess his options and pick out his spot for his first goal of the season.
Moments later, Arsenal was 4-0 up when Gibbs, again, hit an early cross from the left which deflected off Nathaniel Clyne to nestle in behind Kelvin Davis for the second own goal of the game. It was a fantastic finish from Clyne (joking!), but in all seriousness, it was great to see Gibbs so keen on the overlap. At least as far as attacking play is concerned, he is already superior to Gael Clichy.
There would be one black mark to end the first stanza as Wojcech Szczesny dropped what looked like a routine cross, under token pressure from Ricky Lambert, and Daniel Fox was on hand to volley in the visitors’ only goal of the game.
While the result was almost never in doubt, it was a seriously disappointing error from Szczesny, who ruined Arsenal’s chance to make a club-record start to a league campaign with four consecutive clean sheets.
The second half started off much slower from Arsenal’s point of view as Southampton finally decided to press higher up the pitch. The visitors enjoyed a spell of possession in the opening exchanges and the Arsenal defence came under proper pressure for the first time in the match. While the defence just about coped, they were not helped by a sluggish midfield, as Arteta at times struggled to find his position at the right moments and Francis Coquelin faded towards the hour mark.
The Frenchman was subbed off for Aaron Ramsey who, on his fourth-straight appearance off the bench, immediately sharpened up the midfield and was on hand to create the hosts’ fifth goal. Ramsey smashed a shot with his left foot against the far post, but Gervinho was on hand to walk the ball home from a yard out.
Substitutes were made as two-goal Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came off for Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, and it was Walcott who added Arsenal’s final goal. Thomas Vermaelen, on a rare sojourn forward, smashed a shot at goal which was parried by Davis straight to Santi Cazorla. The midfielder did just enough to nudge the ball in Walcott’s path, who fired home to complete the rout.
Szczesny – 5.5: Poor concentration to concede Arsenal’s only goal late in the first half. His distribution continues to be a worry. Will be under pressure to assert his top-dog status against Montpellier.
Jenkinson – 7: Another solid outing for the right back, who didn’t put a foot wrong.
Mertesacker – 7: Calm and composed for the most part, though his distribution got a bit rocky in the second half. Got on the end of one or two crosses in attack.
Vermaelen – 7.5: Quiet, unfussed game. Came under pressure in the second half as the midfield switched off. Had a chance late on which led to Walcott’s goal.
Gibbs – 8: Ran rampant in the first half, getting wide and forward well at pace. Two assists leading to both own goals was a good yield from one of Arsenal’s most improved players.
Arteta – 7.5: Perfect as the midfield pivot in the first half, but his tempo dropped off as Southampton pressed forward in the second stanza.
Coquelin – 6: Started well but became a bit anonymous as the match wore on. First start of the season so he can be afforded patience.
Cazorla – 8: It’s the old ‘running out of superlatives’ for the signing of the summer. So cool on the ball, runs at the defence and almost always picks out the right player.
Chamberlain – 7: Okay in the first half, but improved very well in the second. Played the ball past his marker effectively and stung the palms of the keeper with a shot from the edge of the box. Had one more chance late in injury time to make it seven.
Gervinho – 8: Was due a goal, and got two. Great near post finish for the first and put his second away from a yard out. Great dribbling to scare defenders and a much more confident display from the Ivorian.
Podolski – 8.5: A condensed showing of real quality from the forward. Senational scrambling run to set Arsenal on their way to the first goal, and a blistering free kick for the team’s second. Subbed off for Giroud after a very good shift.
SUBS: Ramsey – 7: Came on and spiced up Arsenal’s tempo after the team had lost its way slightly in the second half. Got into the box well to hit the post which led to Gervinho’s goal.
Walcott – 6.5: Some bad passes and one iffy first touch aside, added pace down the wing and scored a goal after a scramble in the box.
Giroud – 6: Nothing of note, tried to get on the end of a few balls but never really had time to forge a connection with Walcott.
Hype Meter time and we’re up 9 percent from last week with another win as our season finally gets off and running. The real test comes with matches against Man City away (after our Champions League date with Montpellier) and Chelsea at home. My preseason negative nancy impression predicted a loss to City and a home draw to the Blues, so even one win from two will see another jump in Hype.
The result was even more important with both of our next two opponents dropping points: City travelled to Stoke to enjoy another fun 1-1 draw, while Chelsea were kept goalless at QPR. It’s a warning for everyone that Loftus Road really will be one of the truly tough fixtures this season, with the bankrolled Rangers mixing flair with hard work in their side.
After the match, Arsene Wenger was quick to praise our performance, particularly in the first half, and said there was an exciting quality about this new team he’s thrown together.
However, he says the next few weeks with those difficult fixtures will be the real test for the team’s calibre.
We have a big week coming up because we go on Tuesday now to Montpellier. On Sunday we play at Man City and we have two interesting weeks coming up because we play Chelsea as well.
We will know more about our team then but there is a positive energy in this team, a desire to play well together, and real team play. It is very exciting.
Overall, a thoroughly good outing for the Red and White, though I’m still a bit ticked off by Szczesny’s error. Four clean sheets would have been a real statement of intent to the league. His distribution was also pretty rubbish when we were put under pressure, and it remains an issue with his game that he needs to work on. At 22 years of age you’d say there’s plenty of time for him to hit his straps, but that issue becomes more urgent when he is placed as our number one keeper.
As it was, take that error away, and the defence coped well with whatever Southampton threw at us. Arteta’s showing as the axis of midfield for the most part was brilliant, and Cazorla continues to make me smile whenever he gets the ball. He really is a supreme talent.
Podolski’s dazzling first half will go some way to allaying those doubting him (99% of whom are from outside the club).
Montpellier is a decent test for this side before the real nail-biter against the Champions on Sunday, but it’s great to have these high-profile matches this week after the turgid fortnight of international matches.
Good to be back. How was it for you?