Saturday, 23 November 2013

Arsenal 2 - Southampton 0: Olivier Giroud pounces on Southampton mistakes


TWO gifts, two goals, and Arsenal gratefully climbed four points clear at the top of the Premier League table in front of an exultant home crowd.

Olivier Giroud netted twice for Arsenal as the extended their lead at the top of the table.
Like every other team this season they had been tested to the limit by the skills, panache and organisation of third-placed Southampton.
The difference was that the Saints dished up two presents – one from a piece of ultimate goalkeeping madness, the other when the referee spotted a sly and unnecessary shirt-tug and awarded a late penalty.
Both were scored by Olivier Giroud, whose name rang round the Emirates Stadium at the final whistle. He may have more fortunate days in his career, but not many.
The first goal was pure comedy, the most dozy piece of football you will see from a keeper in many a year.
There was zero danger as Saints’ goalie Artur Boruc took a routine back pass from a team-mate. He could have passed it straight back. He could have hoofed the ball up-field or into the crowd.
Instead, he had a brainstorm, trying to dribble away from Giroud when the Arsenal striker closed him down out of habit rather than ambition.
Maybe Boruc has been watching too much Lionel Messi, or playing too hard on a PlayStation.
He tried one back-heel to escape Giroud. It didn’t work. He tried another and almost tumbled over his own feet. Giroud nicked the ball away with ease, tapped it into the empty net, and the home crowd howled with laughter as they celebrated.
“We were a bit lucky with the first goal,” admitted the French striker afterwards.
“But it’s nice for the team and it really helped us. You can see how much Southampton have improved and we had to show them a lot of respect.”
That was clear to all, and their impressive manager Mauricio Pochettino was in no mood to damn his keeper.
“These things happen in football,” said the Saints boss. “Players can have bad days, as he did, but we move on.
“It’s the way we play and it is what I demand of him. Artur has 100 per cent support from everyone, and he has no need to apologise.”
The goal had been coming for Arsenal. They had twice struck the woodwork in the opening 20 minutes, Jack Wilshere clipping a delicate right-foot shot against the post, and Aaron Ramsey hitting the same upright with a clever flick.
If Southampton were mortified by the way they conceded, it didn’t show in their play.
Far from being knocked out of their stride, they continued to have the majority of possession and the quality of their play was a delight to watch.
Their two England debutants both nearly scored before half-time. Adam Lallana had a dipping volley tipped over the bar, while Jay Rodriguez saw his shot scooped clear by Arsenal keeper Wojiech Szczesny.
The best move of the match came in the 52nd minute, a kaleidoscope of quick, clever passes with Rickie Lambert heavily involved. It ended with Lallana striking a fierce shot too close to Szczesny.
Southampton were asking serious questions of Arsenal. This may have been a surprise ‘top-of-the-table’ clash, but there was quality on show.
Mesut Ozil caressed the ball around the field with mesmeric skill. Lambert showed admirable finesse in his passing. Kieran Gibbs was style personified on the left flank, while the strength and touch of Victor Wanyama in central midfield was at the heart of Southampton’s excellence.
Yet, if there was one man of the match, it was perhaps Arsenal’s holding midfielder Mikel Arteta whose interceptions and positioning showed masterful football intelligence.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: “It was a very physical game. We had to be patient and intelligent today. What pleases me is that we have improved our defensive stability.”
Southampton’s hopes of an equaliser were scuppered by another moment of folly in their own box, defender Jose Fonte clearly pulling the shirt of Arsenal giant Per Mertesacker at a corner.
Giroud slammed home the spot-kick for his seventh league goal of the campaign. OLIVIER GIROUD
The Express

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