Olivier Giroud came off of the bench to earn Arsenal a draw at St Mary’s this afternoon after Charlie Austin’s second minute goal.
Saints came within minutes of earning a huge scalp only for the Frenchman to deny them with his 88th minute glancing header sneaking in Fraser Forster’s left post.
The home side were excellent throughout though, defending well when they needed to and threatening a suspect Arsenal defence. An impressive start to the game saw them press the Gooners’ high up the pitch, which led to Saints taking an early lead through Austin’s fifth goal of the season.
The Englishman collected a brilliant reverse pass from Dusan Tadic, who fed his striker with him taking the ball on and poking it past Peter Cech. Per Mertesacker gave the ball back to the visitors in the build up, and that sloppiness epitomised his side’s sloppy start to proceedings.
It could have been more soon after too, with Arsenal struggling to cope with Saint’s high press and Arsenal’s rear line looking nervous. Twice Arsenal were saved by the offside flag in the space of two minutes, with Redmond then driving down the left once more and Austin hitting the post from an offside position.
Alexandre Lacazette had an effort at goal seven minutes in, collecting the ball on the turn, but hitting a tame shot at Forster. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg then rescued his team with a fantastic last-ditched interception following a dangerous Arsenal counter attack. They broke on Southampton following an over hit Jamer Ward-Prowse corner, overloading the Saints back line with the Dane Hojbjerg sliding in to toe poke the ball away at the last second.
Aaron Ramsey produced another tame turn and shot twenty minutes in, which Forster easily dealt with, and Hector Bellerin danced through Tadic and Ryan Bertrand only to find Virgil van Dijk in his way soon after.
Peter Cech was on hand to deny Saints half an hour in, who couldn’t scramble Ward-Prowse’s whipped cross in with Nathan Redmond arriving at the far post and putting the ball into the danger zone.
Forster made an impressive save down to his left to deny Ramsey’s first time strike from Alexis Sanchez’s cut back, the Englishman putting in an assured performance for the home side - saving well and commanding his area well under the high ball.
Arsenal had a good penalty shout five minutes before the break as Maya Yoshida cleaned out Lacazette after he had blazed over from Bellerin’s pass. Saints survived, probably because the chance had already passed, and then Cech raced off his line to deny Austin before the interval, so ending an entertaining first half where Southampton went toe-to-toe with Arsenal and deserved their lead.
The second period saw Southampton sit much deeper as Arsenal dominated possession but rarely threatened. Saints looked good on the counter attack, with Redmond collecting a one-two with Tadic before hitting a shot straight at Cech five minutes into the second half. Ramsey’s ranged effort was nearly steered home by Lacazette, who couldn’t quite stretch to meet the ball but Saints were looking solid.
The hosts enjoyed a great spell around the hour mark, with Oriol Romeu thundering a shot from distance onto the bar and Bertrand going tantalisingly close. Redmond hit a long ball to Tadic, who fed in the England defender only to see his effort drift agonisingly wide. Far from digging in, Saints were thriving and should have been ahead.
Arsene Wenger hooked off Mertesacker for Welbeck and changed shape with twenty minutes remaining and Saints slowing the game down. Yet it was the introduction of Giroud for Lacazette moments later that proved decisive.
Sanchez found a rare bit of space down the left and hung up a cross towards Giroud, the Frenchman beating van Dijk in the air and glancing his header down past Forster brilliantly. One-all with two minutes of normal time remaining, Saints had come so close.
Late chances for substitute Monolo Gabbiadini and Ramsey were fended off and the game ended with honours even.
Despite the late equaliser, Saints can hold their heads high after competing well against a top Arsenal side. Mauricio Pellegrino has turned his side’s form around and they look capable of matching up to anyone at the moment.
The Saint’s gaffer recalled Jack Stephens to the side and set up with three at the back as he did against Man city, a formation that looks likely to be employed often against the top sides.
Stephens, Romeu and Hojbjerg were fantastic today, with Redmond and Tadic more effective going forward; Austin continues to put chances away and must have his minutes managed over the busy festive period.
Saints are at home to Leicester on Wednesday, with Claude Puel returning to St Mary’s following his summer dismissal. He may be returning at the wrong time, with Pellegrino finally making his mark as Saints’ boss following a disappointing start to his tenure.
Saints: Forster; Stephens, Yoshida (c), van Dijk; Bertrand, Romeu, Højbjerg, Ward-Prowse, Tadic (Davis 88), Redmond (Boufal 74); Austin (Gabbiadini 87).
Subs: Hoedt, Davis, McCarthy, Lemina, Boufal, Gabbiadini, Pied.
Arsenal: Cech; Koscielny, Mertesacker (c) (Welbeck 64), Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka (Wilshere 69), Kolasinac; Ozil, Alexis, Lacazette (Giroud 72).
Subs: Ospina, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Wilshere, Iwobi, Welbeck, Giroud.