The Saints fans’ predictable, if probably true, taunt of ‘Championship, you’re having a laugh’ was greeted with (to the same tune) ‘Harry and Jim, Pompey Rejects’. Southampton fans seemingly shouted for handball about every twenty seconds in the opening phase, which included a touch of panic in the Arsenal defence when confronted by a high bouncing ball and a tall tree in a red and white striped shirt, called Crouch. Arsenal steadied themselves and played some good football without ever hitting that ‘sweet rhythm’ that’s been missing for a few games now. Delap was a typical source of Saint’s pressure with his predictable long throws when they weren’t hitting a long high ball to Crouch. Cygan did well though despite persistent criticism from a number of Gooners who continue to regard him as a perpetual scapegoat. Very unfair considering his recent form which has been quite ok.
A Henry, Flamini one-two set up Van Persie with a shot that was just wide of the far post. Camara dived following a neat nutmeg on Pascal at the other end. Play was waved on after Pat flattened Nigel Quashie before Camara fired miles over. To the Pompey chimes tune there was a rendition of ‘Play up Arsenal, Arsenal Play up’. Cole to Henry for a limp header to their keeper Paul Smith. Cygan stopped Camara on a break. Van Persie robbed Bernard to set up an attack. Alan Wiley was making crap decisions against both teams as the travelling Gooners rang out with ‘You’ve only come to see the Arsenal’. Flamini to Lungberg to Henry almost. Long range shot from Robin. A strange decision, although not by Wiley’s standard’s, against Cygan on Camara saw the ever popular Le Saux hit one in from the free kick which Jens took low at his near post.
Pat squirmed through to hit a low shot that lacked power. Crouch may be tall but both Cygan and Toure, as well as Senderos were able to get the better of him most of the time. Quashie flattened Flamini. A good Arsenal move and a fine cross from Freddie. A crap shot from Redknapp and a poor cross from Henry. All this went on while the tackles got more and more heated and became somewhat tasty from both teams. A long ball to Crouch was caught well by Lehmann. Camara was easy to catch offside so our defence did so repeatedly. Redknapp hacked Pat and then moaned about the decision. Van Persie used his arms in a challenge, which became the one foul too many for Alan Riley and so Robin picked up a yellow card, a deserved one. From the free kick Crouch headed down to Camara whose shot was saved by Jens. This was the Saints best move so far and predictably it came from a set play, doesn’t everybody’s? Another high deep cross and Jens was unsure where it might be going but it sailed over and wide.
A seriously evil challenge on Flamini by Prutton saw him deservedly booked. Flamini tied up at the back before Freddie broke. A deep cross to Delap saw him head a ball that Jens took easily. A good fast throw out to Rob, on to Ash but the cross that found Thierry came to nothing. Pat then had a shot parried but the offside flag was up. A Henry cross, left to right, was followed up by one from Toure, right to left, that was too deep. Players were still steaming in as when Pat was fouled yet again by Quashie. Le Saux was caught offside. Then a ridiculous foul on Rob by Prutton near the touchline. Rob stayed down as the ignorant Southampton fans accused him of making a meal of it. As it happens Rob failed to get up and went off injured. After consulting his lino, Wiley clearly didn’t know what happened, Prutton got a second yellow and had to walk, which he only did after shoving Wiley and abusing the lino. It seemed to be the coaching staff who finally got him off. Both his yellow cards could have been reds on another day.
With both teams down to ten men Arsenal broke through Cole who found Henry, who either passed brilliantly or miss hit a shot to Freddie. Ljungberg coming in from the right slammed it home for 0-1 to the Arsenal. Clichy came on to replace the injured Pires as that was pretty well it for the first half.
Today’s half-time whinge is about Coppers. Granted they perform a useful and necessary function at all major sporting events. But, at Southampton today there were, at various times, between four and eight policemen who’d decided they needed to stand facing the Arsenal crowd for the entire match. When I asked one of the stewards in charge of our section why they had to obstruct the views of paying punters who’d been charged £34 for the privilege he gave me a lame excuse. He said something about them having to watch specific problem fans picked out by the cameras. Rollocks! These inconsiderate beings were not looking at any specific fans at all, so far as I could tell they were just there to make their presence obvious and to subsequently obstruct the view of the over-paying public. Would they do that in a similarly priced theatre? Of course they wouldn’t. If any Southampton policeman can give a satisfactory explanation I’d be pleased to hear it.
After the break we looked sharp enough and Flamini to Henry for a neat back heel that failed to find Van Persie suggested this was the case. Freddie to Robin who carved out a chance for Henry that was saved for a corner. We were pressing Southampton back and pegging them in. That was until Van Persie made a rash challenge on Le Saux which resulted in his second yellow card. This was just plain stupid; Alan Wiley was always going to even things up given half an excuse. Le Saux appeared to make a meal of it but how dumb can you get? As it happens Arsenal with ten versus ten simply had more space and played well enough going forward as when great play by Thierry allowed Freddie to cut inside for a shot that was saved. Kolo Toure was doing fancy stuff in their box, Ash found Thierry with a great crossfield ball and we were very much on top. A long throw by Delap was caught by Jens who then screwed up his clearance. Henry won a corner and from his low ball in Cygan had a low, limp shot with his right boot.
Henry had a solo in their box but ran out of room. Flamini and Kolo combined to set up Pat whose first touch was poor. Southampton went up the other end and won a corner that was hit beyond our far post. Jens flapped and got nowhere close as Crouch headed the ball into the ground, it bounced up over Gael or Ashley on the line. 1-1, if Lehmann had stayed put it would have been an easy save. What if, what if, what if? How many more set plays are we going to concede goals from this season? Amazing isn’t it to see anyone scoring from a header, from a set play at our far post? How predictable was that! Southampton broke on another counter and Crouch beat Senderos on the ground but put his shot wide. Kolo did well as Pat powered into their box. Paul Telfer replaced Le Saux, who’d played left-side midfield. Freddie to Thierry who’s shot was miles over. Henry broke left, cut in and fired off target. Flamini put Freddie away into the box and he went down, a trip? Maybe, maybe not but the ball broke to Henry who failed to finish. Eboue replaced Toure, presumably for his attacking skills. Senderos had a mad minute dribbling around forwards in our box.
We were piling on the pressure now, as when Cole broke and Henry had his shot deflected and finally scrambled for a corner. Titi’s ball in skimmed the bald head of Cygan. A good cross in by Freddie following another good move. Henry crossed well for Freddie who connected with a decent header that was tipped over by Smith. A low crap scudding shot from Flamini. Camara shot wide with a weak shot before being replaced by Phillips. Cole was the next to break through and he got as far as a one on one with Smith and hit the ball well, but Smith saved better. Cole and Henry combined well before the unlikely combination of Eboue and Clichy almost did likewise. Cole stormed forward again and again as we reached the three minutes of added time.
A perfect shot by Henry, was going top corner all the way, but was met by a brilliant save from Paul Smith to tip it over, his number 13 being unlucky for Arsenal. A brilliant solo by Flamini ended with a terrible pass when he might have done better to shoot. The pressure mounted and a great cross in from the right as time ran out saw Cole dive to head home, the net rippled but the offside flag was up. Oh dear what a shame we all said, or words to that effect.
So it seems we’ll be vying for third place with Everton pretty soon and we’re rapidly running out of players, having possibly lost two more today.