Arsenal 3-2 Southampton: Danny Welbeck steals the show with two goals, a sublime assist (and a terrible miss) as Gunners edge Saints in fiery clash
Shane Long got ahead of Shkodran Mustafi to open the scoring from Cedric Soares’ cross at the near post
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang levelled the scores with a neat finish after being teed up by Danny Welbeck
Welbeck later gave the Gunners the lead with a deflected effort from the edge of the penalty area
Soares crossed for Saints forward Charlie Austin to tap home an equaliser midway through the second half
Welbeck restored Arsenal’s lead with a header from Alex Iwobi’s cross in the 81st minute at the Emirates
Jack Stephens and Mohamed Elneny were both shown red cards in injury time of the Premier League clash
The incessant rain drenched Mark Hughes and his seat so for a time there was really no shelter as he stood there, contemplating how he can possibly extricate his new players from this almighty mess.
There were some pretty words for them before they disappeared off home on Sunday night. It was a game befitting the Emirates, Arsene Wenger observed.
Southampton were not cowed by the visceral finishing power of Danny Welbeck and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
And there was a kind of valiance in defender Jack Stephens being sent off for a late act of retaliation, after Jack Wilshere had literally ripped his shirt to shreds as he burst out on a counter-attack.
But they don’t give out points for the mere act of trying. The cold, hard truth for Southampton was that they could not hold an early lead for more than 11 minutes and could not maintain parity for more than eight, having been rewarded for a bold substitution with the goal which took them to 2-2.
The image which will have kept Hughes staring at the ceiling in the small hours was that of Dusan Tadic allowing Alex Iwobi to muscle him aside and make the cross which Welbeck waited for — rendering two Southampton defenders an irrelevance as he headed home the winner.
Defending like that is why Southampton are third-bottom of the Premier League.
In the beginning, it looked very different. They arrived with a five-man defence and a counter-attacking master plan. It looked as if it might just work against a weakened Arsenal team which, as we all know, does not exactly scream out intensity.
The early opener revealed the size of the opportunity — and was a reminder of the utter fecklessness which never lurks far behind this team of Wenger’s when the going begins to look challenging.
The spectacle of Shkodran Mustafi — way back on his heels, as Shane Long darted forward in front of him to place the ball past Petr Cech — was a sobering one for any who think Arsenal’s place in the Europa League quarter semi-final is pre-booked before the visit to Moscow this week.
Yes, Arsenal really did spend £35m on Mustafi. And yes, Wenger’s grounds for defending him really were delivered with a straight face. ‘We have an offensive team,’ he said. ‘It means defenders are not always in best conditions to defend.’
But it said everything for the fragile edifice Hughes has occupied that two gusts of Arsenal wind were enough to blow it down. There were two Arsenal goals in 10 minutes and both had a trace of sublimity about them. Aubameyang’s ball in to Iwobi was navigated onwards, via Welbeck’s heel, into the path of the Gabonese, who had travelled into the heart of the visiting box. It did not require the cleanest connection for this excellent new Arsenal talent to score his sixth goal in eight games and his fourth in consecutive games.
Welbeck had not scored in 17 Premier League matches but Iwobi helped him end that run, sliding a ball into the left channel which the striker took inside from the left, past the back-pedalling home defence before unleashing a right-foot shot which flew in off Maya Yoshida’s heel.
Arsenal threatened almost immediately to wrest the momentum back. A ball delivered from an acute angle by substitute Wilshere was somehow levered over the bar by Welbeck. But the stay of execution was pitifully brief. Welbeck needed only three minutes to send in that header.
Someone put it to Hughes on Sunday night that dropping your guard at a moment like that is only natural. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘It’s not a trait that we’re solely guilty of. It’s very difficult. It’s the emotion, it’s the adrenaline, and sometimes you don’t do the correct things immediately after getting back on level terms. That’s the emotion of sport, I suppose.’
But when the dust settles, it will become clear what a heavy price can be paid. Chelsea and Leicester City come next for Southampton and a meeting with Manchester City wraps up their season. Hughes is staring up at a mountain.