Often, the first match after an international break can throw up a disjointed team performance as players struggle to settle back into groove after exertions with their national sides. Yesterday though, Arsenal looked like a well-oiled machine, one lubricated by quality, spirit and determination.
Despite the good run of form that secured third place last season, not since the 5-2 thrashing of the wannabe neighbours in February have the Gunners looked so fluent and potent in attack. Admittedly, Southampton’s defending wasn’t of the highest quality but you can only beat what’s in front of you and Arsenal were full value for both the three points and the emphatic scoreline.
As expected, Arsene Wenger chose not to risk Abou Diaby and handed a start to Francis Coquelin in midfield alongside Mikel Arteta. In defense, Szczesny returned in goal while Mertesacker’s impressive early season form consigned the fit-again Koscielny to the bench. The surprise of course was up front, with the manager opting to hand Gervinho the role of the central striker.
The visitors named the same team which troubled United a couple of weeks ago so new signings Gaston Ramirez and Maya Yoshida had to be content with a place on the bench.
The Gunners found an early rhythm as all four attacking players combined well in the opening minutes. There were warning signs for the visitors as they first allowed Podolski time to shoot from outside the box and then presented acres of space to Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right to make a couple of deliveries into the box. Neither attempts were successful but Arsenal were certainly in the ascendancy in the opening 10 minutes.
The first goal came soon enough, the opportunity created by fantastic determination from Lukas Podolski. The German fought for the ball midway in Southampton’s half, seemed to have lost the battle as he fell to the ground but sprang up quickly to win it back, then shrugged off a shirt tug, motored towards goal and found Kieran Gibb’s run down the left. The English youngster’s shot from 6 yards was deflected off the keeper and bundled into his own net by Hooiveld.