Arsenal slip to draw at Southampton and now lead City by two points at top


This was a reality check for any title pretensions Arsenal hold, although they can still stew from on top of the pile. For the second successive Sunday they wobbled away from home and this time there was no repeat of their fortune at Elland Road, where they scraped through a chaotic second half to win. Another sloppy performance after the interval was punished by a beautifully worked equaliser from Stuart Armstrong and Southampton, who looked well beaten in the opening half-hour, could feel they were worth a point.

Arsenal had not drawn since their stalemate with Burnley in January and the bigger picture may reflect that nobody can maintain a diet of feast or famine forever. Draws happen: many more would doubtless prove terminal in a sprint against Manchester City but, perhaps more relevantly, their position in relation to other top-four contenders is unharmed.

If there is an overarching concern for Mikel Arteta it may be the sense that some of his regulars are beginning to feel the strain of an unforgiving schedule with a rapid turnaround after Thursday night Europa League action every week.

It would explain their drop-off after the interval although they still created a golden chance to feel comfortable before Armstrong scored.

Gabriel Jesus had seen a close‑range volley parried by Gavin Bazunu as half-time neared, benefiting from a gorgeous scooped pass from Martin Ødegaard, but looked certain to make amends on the hour after being sent clear. He was thwarted by a last-ditch block from Mohamed Elyounoussi, who had covered alertly, and the sequence soon took on profound significance.

When Joe Aribo’s dummy opened up space for a surging Romain Perraud, who was the game’s best player in its final half-hour, Elyounoussi burst down the right in expectation of a pass. Perraud obliged and could soon celebrate as Elyounoussi, advancing towards the penalty area before slipping a smart ball down the side of Gabriel Magalhães, fed Armstrong for a clinical finish into the far corner.

“For me, the decisive scene,” Ralph Hasenhüttl said of the challenge on Jesus. “When Mo does what he did today it’s amazing for me to watch.”

Hasenhüttl had changed formation soon after Granit Xhaka’s opener, switching from a defensive four to wing-backs with Elyounoussi patrolling the right opposite Perraud, and could justifiably take his own credit for Southampton’s uptick. His tenure has looked precarious and a thrashing here, even against the leaders, could have taken him to the brink.

That looked the likely outcome after 11 minutes. Arsenal had, as ever, started like a train and already come close through Xhaka and Ødegaard when the former beat Bazunu emphatically. He had scored a remarkably similar goal against PSV Eindhoven, also with his weaker right foot, three days previously; this time Ben White clipped across intelligently after a give-and-go with Bukayo Saka, benefitting from a slight ricochet off Perraud en route, and an untracked Xhaka blasted in first time from 14 yards.

Southampton were chasing shadows. An already stretched squad had been further inconvenienced by injury to Kyle Walker-Peters and the ineligibility against his parent club of Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Che Adams, their matchwinner against Bournemouth, was only deemed fit for the bench and it seemed a matter of time before Arsenal picked them off.

“We stopped doing all the simple things right,” said Arteta of what happened instead. Nonetheless Jesus shot into the side netting and sought a penalty from a wrangle with Duje Caleta-Car, a tetchy duel that continued for the contest’s duration, even before the openings he later passed up.

Arteta did not want to comment on the potential for a spot kick but had consolatory words for Jesus, who has not scored in five appearances but is fundamental to the side’s tempo. “He’s having the chances and he’s always there,” he said. “He gives so much to the team and it’s a shame he couldn’t put them away today.”

The chances had hardly come thick and fast for Southampton before they sliced Arsenal open, but Hasenhüttl identified a mistake early in the second period by William Saliba as a moment that persuaded them the comeback was on. It gave Adam Armstrong a run at Gabriel and, while he squandered the opportunity, the hosts felt emboldened to test Arsenal’s composure in possession. Stuart Armstrong saw a dangerous cross cut out before Elyounoussi intervened at either end.

“It’s a lesson, because we wanted to win again,” Arteta said, but he saw few openings created in response. Eight of his team have started every Premier League game this season and the involvement of Saka and Xhaka, to name two, in regular European action has prompted questions. Hasenhüttl detected that Saints had “more in the tank” late on but Arteta had little time for suggestions Arsenal cannot stand up to twice-weekly exertions.

“I don’t like to have any excuses,” he said. “I think the team looked really fresh at the start. I put it more down to the way we played. We should have played better in the second half.” Their world will keep turning from the loftiest of positions.

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Marta Lopez

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