Southampton 0 Arsenal 2

Nketiah, 20,Willock 86

The positive is back in Arsenal. Their 2-0 win over Southampton on the UK’s hottest day of the year was just the tonic for head coach Mikel Arteta. He had been under a consecutive Premier League loss negative since fixtures resumed following the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Prior to that, Arsenal had been on a positive themselves in the Premier League, until Arteta himself tested positive for Coronavirus to accelerate the shutdown. Happily recovered  for months now, Arteta’s mood was lifted with two goals from his talented youngsters. Eddie Nketiah pounced as Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy attempted a clearance following a back pass. Substitute Joe Willock doubled Arsenal’s lead late on to complete the win.

With Bernd Leno likely to be out for up to six weeks, Emiliano Martinez continued in the Gunners goal. The giant Argentine had to be alert when James-Ward Prowse, Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond threatened.

The Gunners squandered a guilt edged chance to take the lead early on when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came face to face with McCarthy. Arsenal’s top goal scorer was on course to his 50th goal for club, but saw his shot come back off the bar. Replays showed that McCarthy had gotten a partial glove on the ball.

The Saints who were so ruthless in their 3-0 win away to Norwich a few days earlier, stepped up in the second half, and should have been rewarded with Arsenal unable to supress their attacking intent. Martinez however held firm. Five minutes before time, Aubameyang was impeded by Jack Stephens as he raced clear to shoot, for which the Saints defender was shown a straight red.

From the resultant free-kick, substitute Alexandre Lacazette had two attempts to shoot, the first was blocked while the second was parried, with the ball finding it’s way to Willock on the right to slot home from close range under McCarthy for his first Premier League goal and seal Arteta’s first away win of the season.

Following his outburst in the loss at Brighton, Matteo Guendouzi was omitted from the squad, for what was deemed “squad management.” Mesut Ozil was there, but as at the Amex, he remained an unused substitute.

Arsenal’s defence pairing of Shkodran Mustafi alongside Rob Holding held firm, with the latter again proving that he deserves more games in that position. Arteta spoke of his team’s first win in three games.

“We had two very difficult weeks with a lot of things that happened to us. I was concerned because after the defeat at Brighton where we threw the game away, it really touched the team. Confidence is everything in this game and we have to lift them up, but I could see yesterday that the reaction was really positive and they were really at it. We just demanded for them to play together, to enjoy competing with each other and defending each other as much as possible – then we would be fine. It was an important win for us.”

With Nketiah preferred in the middle, Arteta praised the efforts of his striker who was alert to score Arsenal’s opener.

“Eddie, since I joined, the maturity and the personality that he plays every game with is incredible. I demand a lot of our forward players to put the opponent under pressure and they’ve done it. A lot of the goals we score are because of the errors that we force on the opponent. In that heat, to keep chasing players and putting them under pressure, sometimes it’s not a really nice thing to do.

“But obviously when you get a goal from the mistakes they’ve made – which could have caused a few more goals – it’s really important. It generates belief in what they do and it pays the price for the effort. I am happy with Eddie, the way he’s played again today, but I’m happy in general with the team. I’m really happy with the subs, the way they came in and helped the team together with the result and the attitude that they showed.”

Praise was also heaped on Granit Xhaka and the way he has come back since what looked to be a serious knock in the loss at the Etihad.

On the future of Bukayo Saka, Arteta spoke of his wanting to keep him in north London.

“It’s in his hands. He has a manager that has total belief in him, he has a club that really supports him and he has team-mates who adore him for who he is. He’s such a nice boy, he’s very intelligent and he’s so willing to learn. He’s eager to be the best, he tries to be the best every day, and you can put him in different positions and he picks it up really quickly. Every decision he makes, he takes risks. I think he could have produced three goals today. The maturity he shows on the pitch is really good.”

Arsenal now have another away day, but this time in the FA Cup and the trip to Sheffield United on Sunday.