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  • Julian Taylor at Emirates Stadium

Arsenal's title dream diminishes as Saints grab precious point at the Emirates



Arsenal 3 Southampton 3

Julian Taylor at Emirates Stadium


Has Arsenal’s mentality and hitherto unexpected Premier League title challenge, faded under the bright lights of self-imposed pressure?


Two goals down with a one-time favourite son, Theo Walcott, at the heart of the night’s drama, scoring and putting the Gunners’ sense of themselves under stern examination, and a combustible mood in the final third, the winner on the night will have been Pep Guardiola.


The Manchester City manager, whose team are now officially racing into the rear view mirror, will shortly welcome Arsenal, whose touch and fortune has been posted missing just when required. Lacking in conviction, their title-chasing noise did not affect Southampton it must be said.

A 3-3 draw was ultimately more helpful for Saints, a key point in their quest at the wrong end of the table.


Gritty


For Arsenal, those gritty questions of late in terms of their failure to hold on to leads, at Liverpool and West Ham, have only been amplified. Edgy and rattled, the Gunners, who remain four points clear of City but with two extra games played, may just have given a master class in the fine art of self-destruction. The title possibilities, as it were, look like being eclipsed by reigning champions City and their intrinsic know-how. Something, crucially, this Arsenal side currently lack.


Hard taskmaster Arteta has not been inclined to shield even the most callow players from the responsibility of chasing down a first league title since 2004, particularly Bukayo Saka, whose penalty miss last week at West Ham contributed to the concession of two costly points. Arsenal had to settle for just one here.


Amid much talk of jitters with a couple of draws on the road – and losing two goal leads in the process – at the Hammers and Liverpool, in theory the visit of bottom club Southampton is the ideal occasion to get back into a driven mode at this business end of the season.

What a reminder of all that was at stake for Arsenal was a gift of a goal to Saints after, shockingly, a mere thirty seconds in. While it should have been an occasion for early nerves for the struggling visitors, it was, in fact, Aaron Ramsdale, with an unforced error, who blundered.


A poor clearance from the keeper dropped straight into the path of Alcaraz, who kept his composure to clip the ball into the corner of the hosts’ net.


Desperation


There are, crucially, times for a measured response – but the composure and rhythm which have been the hallmarks of the Gunners’ campaign deserted them against opponents, whose obvious desperation to make an impact with time running out.


And such was the abdication of responsibility, and a sense of misfiring under pressure, that it was Walcott, that one time hero of the North Bank, who displayed experience in these taut circumstances, to double the lead in14 minutes. The wingers’ cool, first time finish, fastening on to a though ball by Alcaraz, and eluding the attention of Gabriel, was highly impressive.


Arteta’s side needed radical refocus – and they were fortunate enough to pull a goal back six minutes later to redeem themselves. In a more incisive guise, Saka drifted to the goal line on the right before spotting Gabriel Martinelli unmarked. And from 12 yards out, the Brazilian lashed home.


As events ebbed and flowed – Southampton certainly not put off – Ramsdale smartly turned over an acrobatic Alcaraz shot. What was Arsenal’s excuse for a skittish, error-strewn, first half? A half-hearted Gabriel header which sailed over Gavin Bazunu’s crossbar typified matters, before the Saints’ keeper was alert to deny Gabriel Jesus from an angle. Armel Bella-Kotchup then cleared a Ben White header off the line from Saka’s corner at the end of the half.


The second half was, frankly, make or break, for the hosts who needed to play with freedom of expression rather than excessively poor distribution, plus, most notably, the precious nature of the occasion itself. Badly needed cohesion was barely forthcoming.


Snapped

Increasingly, Saints snarled and snapped at Arsenal’s technicians, Odegaard and Partey, before another twist.

Arsenal may not have conceded any free kicks in James Ward-Prowse territory – but the Southampton captain was integral to piling on the misery for Arteta.


In 66 minutes, Ward-Prowse slung in a corner from the right, which took a deflection into the path of substitute Duje Caleta-Car who nodded in at the far post.


Arsenal’s response was shapeless and lacklustre. The high talk of titles clearly getting the better of them, despite salvaging a point in exacting fashion. Remarkably, with two minutes to go, Odegaard rifled home from a neat assist on the edge of the box by Ben White which sparked brazen hope in the stands. Bazunu’s touch then let him down as he spilled the ball into the path of Saka who fired in the rebound to level.


From all the challenges and excitement here at the Emirates this term, substitute Leandro Trossard still had time to crack the ball against the bar from distance. Breathless.


How matters for the ambitious north Londoners ended in disappointment, despite the peppering of chances, the defiance and noise. City are now in control of the Premier League destiny.


Gunners: Ramsdale, White, Partey, Gabriel, Holding, Zinchenko (Nketiah 71), Vieira (Trossard 56), Saka, Odegaard, Jesus, Martinelli (Nelson 85)

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