To and fro

While Arsenal’s goal difference was given some welcome respite, the starvation we’ve been subjected to this season left me wanting more and Arsenal could have won by 8 or 9 goals against a poor Southampton side. The first 20 minutes were as miserable as the lowest points against Everton and United and I feared the worst when Southampton were able to box Arsenal inside their own half with ease, barely allowing them to string together two passes.

Those fears ended up being short-lived, with Arsenal breaking the deadlock after beating Southampton’s press for the second time and that’s largely thanks to some brinkmanship from Ramsdale, which was the basis of his impetus. In such times when there are no clear leaders, especially when we find ourselves once again questioning what exactly is going on with the man with the armband, those that continually step forward are the ones I’m most thankful for. It wasn’t just his influence on the ball either, because Ramsdale was called into action a few times before Arsenal even got their break and the story may have been different if Southampton actually converted one of their early chances.

Arsenal’s peculiar relationship with confidence is difficult to unpack; after the predictable stomp at Anfield, I’d hoped that steering back on track against Watford would put Arsenal in good stead for their trip to Old Trafford but what followed was 180 minutes of capitulation. The hallmarks of low confidence were just as evident against Southampton, but the onslaught that followed once Arsenal had some breathing space and barb to their game was sort of astounding. There’s plenty of factors at play here, because Southampton have their own problems and playing away from home is always a factor now that crowds are back but it feels like the floor and ceiling of this phenomenon is too volatile to ever allow for consistency.

I’m happy for Lacazette, but despite the all-important opener, he looked bereft of ideas in front of goal and has seemingly all but forgotten he’s actually a centre forward. In fairness to him, he’s spent large periods of the season in a far deeper role and prior to this match, had only managed 5 shots all season. There’s also a question whether literally any other right-footed player stuck there would have also scored, but his contractual situation appears to be making that question less important with each match day.

Still, the rest of the team grew together from there on in and adding a second barely 5 minutes later was crucial in allowing Arsenal to actual enjoy their football again. There was some good fortune in the build-up, with Tierney’s highly-calculated mis-control and deflected cross but he was quickest to the second ball and Martin Odegaard was arriving in the right place at the right time again. For a player who struggled to live up to the expectations at the start of the season, he’s been one of the few consistent performers in the past few weeks and adding goals to his game was something that often escaped him during his loan. He started the game uneasily and struggled to find players running into space in the opening quarter, but I’m still glad that he had the ambition to try. I also have no doubt that he has the ability to actually make those passes but it’s somewhat understandable given the game-state at the time.

It was another fruitful game for Martinelli and Saka, with both desperately unlucky not to score after both were denied by opposing posts. They’ll be happy with an assist each and they’d done the hard part in finding space for themselves in tight spaces. With Gabi’s resurgence, it’s now beyond doubt that Arsenal’s creative burden is at the behest of its youngest players and the only question left is whether Arteta can find a way to accommodate him and Smith Rowe together. The answer seems obvious and on paper, a front three of Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Saka is hugely exciting but I can understand why Arteta won’t be heading there just yet.

It’s also nice having another player who can actually take half-decent corners. We’ve always known that Martinelli attacks dangerous areas with his crosses but it’s another thing to do it from dead-ball situations. After his compatriot was denied earlier, it didn’t take long for him to have another stab and Gabriel now has more Premier League goals than Harry Kane this season.

The Captaincy

Just in time for Christmas, the ghost of Nicolas Pépé made an appearance.. and I guess Aubameyang is Tiny Tim left out in the cold in all of this. By the sounds of it, he only has himself to blame and at this point, it’s difficult to see how he retains the captaincy. In many ways, it may well do everyone a favour because he’s never been convincing as a captain and he’s been at his best in the role when he’s been scoring freely. Those days look like they’re now behind him and if he can’t lead by example elsewhere, there doesn’t seem much sense in protecting him any longer. It may sow some disharmony initially, but contrary to the exaggerated reports of a “bad attitude” he arrived with, I don’t think he’s the type to throw a tantrum or harbour resentment for the rest of his time here. Who takes over is anyone’s guess, because the squad is full of characters – my only hope is that Arteta doesn’t take the easy road and pick someone else from the old guard, because they haven’t been leading or performing consistently enough to deserve it.

It won’t take long to find out what Arteta’s decision is, and after West Ham slipped up today against the cave trolls, Arsenal somehow find themselves back in contention with the Top Four and an unlikely win against West Ham would make it easier to forget the eyesores against Everton and United. I’ll believe it when I see it, but it just goes to show how precarious this middle pack is.

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