26/12/2015: Saints 4-0 Arsenal
Saints' winless run came to an emphatic end with a thumping win over Arsenal at St Mary's. Ronald Koeman's side were excellent in every respect. The team was organised, played good football and were ruthless in front of goal.
Saints were very cautious during the opening quarter or so. Victor Wanyama was deployed very deep, giving added protection to the back four. Jordy Clasie, James Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis also dropped back, making it difficult for Arsenal to play their way through. Their only major effort of the first 20 minutes came when Olivier Giroud headed over from Mesut Ozil's corner.
Saints took the lead just as the team was beginning to adopt a slightly more positive attitude. Koeman's side never really went gung-ho, but Sadio Mane and Shane Long were able to stretch the Arsenal back four, latching on to long balls over the top. The first goal came from the most unlikely source, however. Per Mertesacker headed Ryan Bertrand's cross out to the right. Cuco Martina found himself in plenty of space, striking brilliantly into the corner of the net. The ball swerved wide before coming back in, giving Petr Cech no chance.
Saints grew in confidence after the goal, but continued to manage the game effectively, picking the opportune moments to attack. Ward-Prowse shot wide after making space for himself on 25. Davis had another half-chance before Long was flagged offside.
Just prior to half-time Saints got a bit sloppy. The team gave away possession cheaply a few times, but fortunately remained organised as a unit and Arsenal weren't able to capitalise. Theo Walcott missed a free header from a corner on 39. Long then missed a glorious chance at the other end, shooting over after being played in by Mane.
Saints regained their composure at the start of the second-half and never really let up. Virgil van Dijk had a goal ruled out for offside on 50. It was a close call. The team continued to press and on 55 the second goal duly arrived. Mane and Long combined well on the edge of the box, before the former squared the ball for the latter to finish in the centre of the area.
Saints briefly slowed the tempo of the game, without ever relinquishing control. The team built patiently and continued to ask questions of the Gunners. It was from a corner that the third goal arrived. Jose Fonte planted a header past Cech from Bertrand's cross.
Dusan Tadic came on for Saints and was immediately involved in the action. Cech pushed out his 74th minute effort. Arsenal almost scrambled a goal back on 80 from Nacho Monreal's cross, only for Ozil's effort to trickle across goal before being cleared away. Arsenal looked spent during the closing stages and Saints took advantage and punished them further. Long smashed the ball against the post after being played in by Tadic on the right. The Irishman was given another chance to score a second in stoppage time and this time he took it. It was Tadic who played him in once again with a perfectly weighted through ball. Long touched it wide before slotting through Cech's legs. With the momentum they had Saints may well have gone on to get more had the game carried on any longer. As it was, the referee blew his whistle for full time, bringing an end to a remarkable game.
A totally unexpected, but most welcome result and performance. Saints were everything they hadn't been during the previous six games or so. Koeman had the team extremely well drilled, and got his game plan spot on. He was right to start off cautiously and utilise the pace of Long and Mane. Individually everyone stepped up their game too. The likes of Fonte and Wanyama were back to the form they showed last season. All the subs made a really positive impact and our second-choice right back came in for his first competitive league start and scored the goal of the season. It really couldn't have gone much better. Proof that there is still plenty of quality within the team. Hopefully this will act as a springboard for better things.
Steklenburg: 7. A fairly decent presence in the air
Martina: 8. Goal was a surreal moment. Grew in confidence after that, playing some good long passes
Fonte: 8. More like last season's Fonte. Cleaned up at the back and strong at set pieces at both ends of the pitch
van Dijk: 7. Had a very comfortable evening. Didn't let much get past him
Bertrand: 8. Caused problems in the attacking third with his pace and solid defensively
Wanyama: 8. Best game in some time. Had control of the midfield and showed skill on the ball
Clasie: 7. Won the ball back and kept it moving quickly. Went off with a knock. Hopefully it's nothing too serious
Ward-Prowse: 8. Always broke forward at the right time and added energy to the midfield
Davis: 8. Played like a man ten years younger. Covered so much ground, helping the team effectively transition from defence to attack
Mane: 8. Combined brilliantly with Long and timed his runs to perfection
Long: 8. Missed a few good chances in the first-half, but never let his head drop. Speed and movement excellent
Romeu: 7. Won everything in midfield
Tadic: 7. Involved in nearly all the late chances
Juanmi: Created space with some positive runs
Saints: Martina (19) Long (55, 90) Fonte (69)
Attendance: 31,669 (3,217 Arsenal fans)
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Saints line-up: Stekelenburg, Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Clasie (Romeu 67) Ward-Prowse (Tadic 71), S Davis, Mane (Juanmi 81), Long
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Yoshida, Caulker, Ramirez
Arsenal line-up: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini (Chambers 73), Ramsey, Campbell (Oxlade-Chamberlain 64), Ozil, Walcott (Iwobi 78), Giroud
Subs not used: Ospina, Gibbs, Gabriel, Reine Adelaide