Free pints and three unexpected points was the order of the day at St Mary’s yesterday as Ralph Hasenhüttl took a step back to the future with the Saints players, just under a fortnight into the job the Austrian got his players to turn in a performance that resembled the days of Pochettino and Koeman, not since before the Ginger Judas decided money and Merseyside were more important than Southampton FC have I seen a Saints team play like that.
From the first to the last blow of the ref whistle, the Saints players who’ve been missing for months finally decided to turn up on thepitch all at the same time and the Saints got at Arsenal, maybe cancelling their day off annoyed them more than we fans know and they took their frustration out on a lacklustre Arsenal team who rocked up with a record of 22 games undefeated.
On 5 minutes Alex McCarthy makes a strong save to deny Aubameyang. Guendouzi dinks an inviting ball over the top of the Southamptonback line, and the Arsenal striker races on to it, evading Yoshida, who is caught in no man’s land however McCarthy came to Yoshi’s rescue.
The early chance by Arsenal led the Gooner fans to think the game was a walk in the park for their assortment of world cup winners and international player,
I like nothing more than hearing away fans chanting “you’re going down” to Saints fans in the Itchen North, just moments before Matty Targett whipped in a sublime cross for Danny Ings who was given the freedom ofthe penalty area to nod home on 20 minutes.
As the words of the Arsenal fans were being rammed back down their throats the Saints high pressing game was paying off, until 8 minutes later when Monreal run towards the byline after being slipped in by Iwobi, and the Spaniard pulls a cross back for Mkhitaryan, the Armenian was as free as Ings as he headed Arsenal level.
Now normally under the previous managers especially Hughes, the nerves would’ve set in and Saints would crumble, but not this time as on 29 minutes the outrageous haired Guendouzi linked well with Torreira, laying the ball on a plate for Aubameyang who had for all the world had a tap in to put Arsenal 2-1 up, but it wasn’ to be as a moment of magic from Jan Bednarek took the ball off Aubameyangs toe, a minute after Bednareks intervention Saints, we get a free-kick 25 yards from goal. It’s floated in by Matty Targett but Vestergaard, heads over.
The tempo of Saints got the fans in full voice, SMS is rocking to the sound of O When Saints when Arsenal fans were reduced to mocking the North London neighbours. On 41 minutes Saints win a corner, after good work by Valery down the right, Armstrong plays the corner short to Redmond, and his effort is comfortably cleared by Arsenal, this see’s many Saints heading for the half-time refreshments, oh how I bet they wished they hadn’t moved so fast, when on 44 minutes Saints counterattack, starting with a throw out by McCarthy, the ball arrives at the feet on Nathan Redmond, who delivers a beautiful cross from Danny Ings to loop his header past the on looking Leno, it seemed like to ball took an age to go in, but go in it did, and Saints went into break 2-1 up, much to the delights who didn’t fancy queuing on the concourse.
Arsenal get the second get the second underway, there are no changes for Saints but Arsenal bring on Lacazette in place of Bellerin as they revert to a back four. Early doors I and McCarthy spreads himself to deny Aubameyang, this seemed to spur the Saints on and they’re pressing the Arsenal players like there’s no tomorrow, clearly whatever Ralph in the dressing room has worked.
Arsenal are attempting to assert some pressure but the Saints break up their play well until 53 minutes, when Romeu is hounded out by Lacazette on the edge of the box. Mkhitaryan, who tries his luck with a speculative shot, the ball cannons off unfortunate Vestergaard this wrong-foots McCarthy and the ball trickles into the net to draw Arsenal level.
Far from being deterred by the leveller Saints show evenmore fight and team spirit, Redmond gets the better of Koscielny who tugs athis shirt and kick out at the Saints striker, it was quite a cynical challenge,and for me, the Frenchman could have walked, but from the resulting free kick Targett floats one in but again the Frenchman clears his lines, feeling the effects of the challenge Redmond is removed from the action and is replaced by Shane Long on 63 minutes.
The Saints teenage Frenchman Yan Valery show his compatriotKoscielny how to tackle when he slides in to win the ball from Monreal, the home faithful loved it, however Saints hardly tested Leno early in the second half.
On 67 minutes McCarthy comes rushing out of goal but doesn’t claim the ball. Aubameyang tried and failed to fashion a clear shooting opportunity, Iwobi crosses, his ball actually squeezes underneath our goalie, but he grabs it at the second time of asking.
Arsenal introduce their second world cup winner to the gamewhen Ozil enter the fray, the boogle eyed German international looks like hewants to be anywhere but out there in the rain, and to be honest he plays like it as well. On 71 minutes Ings is replaced by Austin, I did wonder at the timewhy Ralph would deny our hometown lad the chance of a hat-trick, completelyforgetting he is on the way back from his latest injury. Two minutes later it’sthe last throw of the dice for Arsenal as Maitland-Niles replaces Lichtsteiner (I’ve detested him for years) so I was glad to see the back of the whinging and whining that has always been part of his game.
With 74 minutes on the clock, Saints win a corner an umarked Maya Yoshida powered a header toward goal, forcing Leno into an instinctivesave, Longy scores after a goal line scramble, HOWEVER the celebration of the Saintsfans is short lived as referees Sian Massey-Ellis, rules Long was offside,which at the time looked harsh but it was the correct the decision.
It’s now end to end stuff, Arsenal break Aubameyang sliding a lovely ball across the box, but Vestergaard clears the ball away from Lacazette. Saints attack again, Leno punches clear, and Aubameyang on the counter does well down the right before playing (the still freezing cold looking)Ozil on the opposite flank, he dinks a ball into the box, with Aubameyang lurking at the back post, but he makes hardly any contact with the cross.
On 83 minutes Ozil and Torreira linked beautifully andsimultaneously causing panic, as Saints fans fear the worst, however their fears were short lived, Saints were not going to lose this game, not on this day,the team had worked so hard and they pressed forward in search of a winner, andsure enough it came, Long was set free on the right, Leno came to meet him but forsome reason decided to back peddle towards goal, I was begging Longy to chiphim, but instead of listening to me thankfully he decides to cross a inch perfect ball for Austin to head home. St Mary’s erupted as Charlie boy turnaway in celebration, Ralph erupted on the bench, even the Chapel stand foundtheir voice, when a rendition of “Stand up if you love the Saints” rings around the stadium.
Somehow the ref finds 5 added much to the consternation of Hasenhüttl and the Saints fans, on 92 minutes McCarthy gathers a deflected Mkhitaryan, the Saints are moments away from only their third league win this season. A cramp riddled Stuart Armstrong is replaced on 94 minutes by Tyreke Johnson, the youngster making his debut for the Saints, Valery is actually smiling as he’s shielding off a late Arsenal challenge on the byline. McCarthy will boot the goal-kick upfield, Long gets booked as the whistle ring out from the home support. Finally with just over 6 minutes of added time played the ref blew the whistle to signal hysteria amongst the long suffering Saints fans, free drinks for the fans and three points for Saints, if Carlsberg did Sunday afternoons.
I don’t care what Hasenhüttl did or said in the build up to this game, but it sure as hell worked, I’ve heard rumours of players texting the injured Ryan Bertrand telling him how different life is now under the new boss, and that he’s in for a shock when he returns in the new year.
What a Day? What a Game? What A win? Of course one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but if Saints continue to play in this manner they will surely do enough to secure their Premier League status.