“We have to freshen it up,” said Mikel Arteta ahead of kick-off at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Arsenal boss had made four changes to his starting line-up to face Southampton. He had altered his set-up too, switching from a back four to a back three. But there was little in the way of freshness in their performance. In fact, it all felt very familiar.
Arsenal did at least muster a response after falling behind on this occasion, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring his first Premier League goal at the Emirates Stadium since July – discounting the one he put past his own goalkeeper against Burnley on Sunday.
But Arsenal’s performance before that offered little encouragement and what happened next was grimly predictable too.
Just as they appeared to be in the ascendency, another needless red card, this time to Gabriel Magalhaes. It was Arsenal’s seventh sending off in 33 Premier League games under Arteta.
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Mercifully, they managed to see out the closing stages this time, even going close to stealing three points when Rob Holding crashed a header against the bar. But it is a measure of how far Arsenal have fallen that clinging on for a draw at home to Southampton feels vaguely positive.
The numbers make grim reading. Arsenal remain 15th in the Premier League table, only five points clear of the relegation zone. They have won once in their last nine games in the competition. Their tally of 14 points is their lowest at this stage of a season in 46 years.
Arteta will take heart from the collective resolve shown after the sending off. “I saw all the players that weren’t participating and they were in the stands shouting, being right behind the team and living the game with them, which is a really strong signal,” he said afterwards, in reference, perhaps, to recent reports of unrest.
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s draw with Southampton
But Arsenal will need more than that if they are to reverse their recent form in the next 10 days. Their next assignment comes against a resurgent Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday. After that they host Manchester City and Chelsea.
Those sides are more than capable of punishing a performance like the one Arsenal produced during the first half at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night, just as Southampton did when Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny inexplicably collided in midfield, allowing Che Adams to slide Theo Walcott through on goal for the opener.
It was desperate defending from Arsenal but once again it was with the ball that they struggled most. Southampton are a fine side who came into the game in excellent form, but it was still jarring to see Arsenal register only 43 per cent of the possession on their own turf before the break.
By the end, that number had dropped to 35 per cent.
Aubameyang’s goal and Bukayo Saka’s role in it – a brilliant run which took him past three defenders – are positives Arteta will hope to build on. But the issues with build-up and chance creation remain. Arsenal were outshot by their opponents – and in both halves too.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was one of four changes
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That despite Arteta’s changes. Arsenal supporters were eager for the manager to shake things up and he did, at least to some degree, but Nicolas Pepe carried no more threat than Willian, while Eddie Nketiah had to make do on the same meagre service as Alexandre Lacazette. Different players, same problems.
Edu, Arsenal’s technical director, could be seen shaking his head in frustration when the camera landed on him late in the first half. You suspect the fans would have been similarly unimpressed had they been there to see it first-hand.
Arteta praised his players for “defending with their lives” in the latter stages of the game. He will take the point and move on – “when you cannot win it, you don’t lose it,” he added – but while the result was better than it might have been, it was ultimately another performance to highlight just how much work lies ahead of him.
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