Southampton impressive as they keep Arsenal at arm's length to reach FA Cup fifth round

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Sam Dean
·20 min read
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Southampton have taken an early lead at St Mary's - ACTION IMAGES
Southampton have taken an early lead at St Mary's - ACTION IMAGES

This was the risk that Mikel Arteta decided to take when he left out Arsenal’s three best players of the last month. The FA Cup holders have lost their grip on the trophy, their hands snatched away from it by a typically eager Southampton side, and the defeat was a reminder of how important certain players have become to their ambitions this season.

Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe were rested by Arteta here, and Bukayo Saka started the game on the bench. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, meanwhile, was absent through an unspecified personal matter. Arsenal are improving, but they are clearly not yet at the stage where they can survive the absence of four such key players.

The decision to rotate was no doubt taken with Tuesday in mind, as Arsenal return here in the Premier League. If they are victorious then, perhaps Arteta will consider himself vindicated. By contrast Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl named his strongest possible selection of outfielders, who ran with all their usual aggression and intensity.

“Against a team like Arsenal, if you don’t pick a strong team how do you want to win? Against the cup holders it would have been naive not to play our best side,” said Hasenhuttl. “We did not have to rest any players, we are not in a relegation battle.”

In the first half especially, Southampton looked the more organised and resilient unit. Their progress to the next round was sealed through a Gabriel Magalhaes own goal and over the course of the match they might feel unfortunate not to have scored more. Danny Ings was a menace on his return, while Che Adams and Theo Walcott caused plenty of problems of their own.

It speaks volumes of Arsenal’s decline over recent years and Southampton’s progress that, really, these are two evenly-matched teams. The visitors had the better of the second half, especially when Saka and Thomas Partey joined the action, but they lacked the necessary decisiveness in the final third.

Willian continues to struggle, while Nicolas Pepe still drifts in and out of matches. There was nothing to suggest either will be in the Arsenal lineup again in midweek, when Smith Rowe and Saka will surely return. The attacking hierarchy has been totally flipped on its head.

Southampton’s lineup is much more clearly defined and they looked the more settled from the off, with James Ward-Prowse striking the bar directly from a corner and Adams forcing a fine save from Bernd Leno. “We gave them control of the game with a lot of unforced errors,” said Arteta.

As is so often the case, Southampton’s goal originated from their energetic pressing in the opposition half. Arsenal were unable to play out and the ball was eventually worked wide to Kyle Walker-Peters, whose cross was diverted into his own net by the returning Gabriel, making his first appearance since December.

At this stage, Arsenal’s lack of rhythm was best summarised by a pass that rolled off the pitch as Cedric Soares and Martinelli both left it for each other. In attack, Eddie Nketiah was unable to hold onto the ball and in midfield Mohamed Elneny struggled to cope with the pressure applied by Southampton’s red shirts.

The arrival of Partey as a second-half substitute helped Arsenal to take more control of the ball and territory, but still they lacked spark. It was the sort of problem they had endured repeatedly earlier this season, yet it had seemed in recent weeks that they had moved beyond that. Perhaps not, with Willian hardly helping the cause as he became increasingly ineffective.

“The intention is there and the willingness is there,” said Arteta of Willian and Pepe. “I want to think positively and think they are going to reach the level very soon. We are here to support them.”

Southampton are a forward-thinking, forward-passing team. Whenever they had the ball, they tried to attack the space and charge through the middle. Walcott fired into the stands at the end of one counter-attack, while Ings was always hovering in dangerous areas.

It took until the 65-minute mark for Arsenal to create their first clear opening of the second half, with Nketiah stabbing an effort at goal from Pepe’s excellent pass. Saka, another substitute, then slashed a bouncing ball over the bar before Willian’s effort was blocked as Arsenal began to impose themselves at last.

Southampton were never truly rattled, though, and they appealed for a penalty when Holding swung a leg at Shane Long at the end. Arsenal’s best chance fell to Nketiah, but his wild effort flew off target as the cup holders were thrown out of the competition that brought their finest moment of last season.

Match details

Southampton (4-2-2-2): Forster 6; Walker-Peters 7, Bednarek 7, Stephens 6, Bertrand 6; Diallo 6, Ward-Prowse 7; Armstrong 7, Walcott 7; Ings 7 (Long, 85), Adams 7 (N’Lundulu, 78).
Substitutes not used: Lewis (g), Valery, Vokins, Ramsay, Jankewitz, Watts, Chauka.
Booked: Stephens, Bertrand.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Leno 6; Bellerin 6 (Lacazette, 72), Holding 6, Gabriel 5, Cedric 6; Elneny 5 (Partey, 58), Xhaka 6; Pepe 6, Willian 5, Martinelli 5 (Saka, 58); Nketiah 5.
Substitutes not used: Runarsson (g), Ryan (g), Maitland-Niles, Chambers, Luiz, Willock.
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).

02:08 PM

FULL-TIME: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

That's it - Southampton will face Wolves away in the next round and were well worth their win. They played a near-full strength side and dominated for large periods of the match.

Arsenal picked a below-strength side and from the start were half a yard off the pace. It was a match in which highlighted just how important Smith Rowe and Saka have become for Arteta's side in a short space of time.

02:06 PM

93 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Last chance! Nketiah gets the ball in the box, it doesn't fall for him and he snatches it on the half-volley, the shot going wide.

02:05 PM

92 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

N’Lundulu is in on goal but he labours the chance somewhat and it goes for a corner - a good chance to waste time for the hosts. They play it short and Ward-Prowse gives away a free-kick. One minute to go...

02:03 PM

89 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Saka has the ball on the left and plays a quality ball into the near post which Lacazetter just cannot reach.

Three minutes of injury time to come.

02:02 PM

88 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Ward-Prowse is named man of the match. He's been brilliant today and been the base on which the hosts have largely dominated the 90 minutes.

02:01 PM

85 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

The hosts have the ball in the final third and are playing keep ball.

Long, on for Ings, goes down in the box BUT the ref gives a corner, rather than pointing to the spot.

01:57 PM

82 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Well into the last 10 minutes - Arsenal need to work a clearcut chance. Pepe is fouled by Bertrand just on the edge of the box. Pepe has looked sharper this half.

Pepe takes the set-piece and I'll just say it wasn't he best (he went for goal and it went high over the bar...) Arteta doesn't look best pleased.

01:55 PM

80 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Bertrand makes a rare foray to the final third and wins a free-kick near the byline on the left, Silly tackle from Partey.

Ward-Prowse's hit finds Pepe's face, that hurt but was good defending.

01:53 PM

78 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Nketiah is played in by Pepe, he has a one on one with Forster who saves. It's offside, though, and wouldn't have counted.

01:50 PM

76 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal pushing the hosts' backline deeper and deeper, they're searching for the equaliser.

For Southampton Adams is off for N’Lundulu a former Chelsea youth player.

01:48 PM

74 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Southampton sitting on the lead at the moment, trying to manage the game.

An Arsenal attack ends with Willian shooting from the edge of the box, Walker-Peters blocks and the Southampton backline are finally being made to work.

01:46 PM

73 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Willian gets in a cross-cum-shot which Forster punches away. Arsenal playing a higher tempo now.

01:44 PM

71 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Lacazette, Arsenal's highest scorer this season, comes on for Bellarin - the visitors have 20 minutes to get back into this tie.

01:43 PM

70 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

VAR check for a Walker-Peters handball. The cross came in and the ball did hit the Southampton defender on the hand but it's not given - fair, but earlier in the season that would have been given.

01:41 PM

69 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

The replay shows that the shot got a deflection that redirected the ball into the past of Forster

01:40 PM

68 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Pepe plays in Nketiah after a few passes in midfield, he strikes it low toward the corner of the goal and Forster makes a fine save.

01:38 PM

66 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Armstrong plays in Adams on the left, he looks up and plays an early low ball to Walcott in the box, it runs to Ings at the back and the move fizzes out.

01:37 PM

64 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Partey shoots from distance, it goes well high and wide, the pass was the much better option and he acknowledges that with a raised, apologetic arm.

01:36 PM

63 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal are competing better now, pressing as a unit and seeing more of the ball. Pepe gives the ball away, though and the move comes to nothing.

01:35 PM

61 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Cedric commits a foul throw - something you usually only see in the park on a Sunday morning...

01:32 PM

57 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Can those positive moves make a difference for the visitors?

Nketiah and Pepe work well together down the right before Nketiah gets in a shot that Bednarek does well to block for a corner.

From the resulting set-piece Holding gets in a shot that goes over - good chance that, but the ball just wouldn't sit for him and the defender snatched at it.

Promising signs for Arsenal.

01:30 PM

56 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal make the much-needed changes.

Partey on for Elneny and Saka for Martinelli.

01:29 PM

54 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal need to find some foothold in the game, their midfield needs beefing up. They're second best at the moment but at 1-0 down still very much in the match.

01:24 PM

50 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Walcott and Ings exchange passes on the edge of the areas, Arsenal sniff out the danger before Bertrand crosses to Ward-Prowse who volleys over from just outside the area.

Southampton have started this half in the same away as they finished the first.

01:23 PM

48 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Great chance for the hosts - Ings gets in behind the Arsenal defence, fires in a low shot that hits the posts and comes back off Leno for a corner.

The flag was up and it would not have counted.

01:20 PM

46 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Free-kick on the right for Southampton, Ward-Prowse fires on in which Leno (who's looked good) collects under pressure.

01:18 PM

45 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Back under way at St Mary's, changes for either side.

If Southampton can keep up their energetic high press then you'd have to fancy the hosts to hold firm.

01:17 PM

508 minutes of solidity

01:03 PM

HALF-TIME: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

The hosts dominated the first 45 and are well worth their one-goal advantage.

You get the feeling Arsenal will need to mix it up in the second half, they've been fairly limp so far, offering very little threat.

12:59 PM

41 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Silly free-kick given away by Pepe on Bertrand...Ward-Prowse (free-kick master) has the ball on the edge of the box on the left. His attempt goes wide, tough angle to score from.

12:57 PM

39 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

The hosts are closing Arsenal down well at every opportunity, forcing errors. Arsenal, on the other hand, aren't pressing as a unity and the Southampton backline are having a far easier match as a result

12:55 PM

Own goal misery for Arsenal

12:53 PM

36 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Willian moves down the right and plays in Pepe gets in a shot that's block in the box. That's the best yet from Arsenal with Martinelli impressive in the build up. He's looked their best player so far and no matter what today's result is Arsenal can take some positive out of the match.

12:51 PM

34 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Leno clears straight to Ward-Prowse - the high press working well for the hosts - he plays in Ings and Arsenal breathe a sigh of relief clearing for a corner.

From the resulting set-piece Ings has a header peeling away from his marker, the attempt goes just wide.

It's all Southampton at the moment.

12:47 PM

Own goal glory for Southampton

12:46 PM

29 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal have been limp in attack so far. Pepe is not really involved and their attacks are breaking up too easily. Southampton will be pleased with how the game is going.

12:45 PM

27 mins: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Ings' volley is goalbound but Bellarin blocks it for a corner. Arsenal need to show some character here - which is what Bellarin did - decent block

12:40 PM

GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!! Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Own goal from Gabriel.

Ward-Prowse plays in Walker-Peters on the right, the full-back gets in a great low ball that goes through the legs of Cedric and in trying to deal with the threat Gabriel deflects the ball past Leno and into the back of the net.

Well worked move but fortunate, Leno had that covered.

12:38 PM

20 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Arsenal defending deep in numbers, Southampton are seeing most of the ball.

12:35 PM

18 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Martinelli is looking sharp at the moment, lively and not like someone just back from injury.

12:34 PM

Nearly a goal from a corner...

12:33 PM

15 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Great chance for Martinelli - the Brazilian times his run from a free-kick brilliantly and is in acres of space in the box BUT he cannot make a decent contact with the ball and Forster collects the ball. That move was very similar to the Southampton one from which Ings scored against Liverpool.

12:31 PM

14 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Adams drives at the Arsenal backline, skips past two and fires in low forcing Leno into a fine save. Best chance of the match so far and good play from the Southampton striker

12:29 PM

11 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Bellerin gets in a low cross from the right and Southampton deal with it well. Arsenal are seeing a bit more of the ball.

Cedric then gets the ball on the edge of the box and fire high - should have done better, but it wouldn't have counted as Pepe was deemed to be offside.

12:26 PM

9 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Arsenal's first bit of pressure, Pepe wins a corner. The visitors first serious foray in the match ends up with Pepe's corner being cleared by Armstrong and the danger for Southampton, that never really materialised, is over.

12:24 PM

6 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Bertrand receives a crossfield ball and brings it down with a delightful touch before crossing for Armstrong who heads over. Good early signs for the hosts

12:21 PM

3 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Bertrand gets in a decent ball from the left and Cedric heads away for a corner.

Ward-Prowse fizzes one into Ings and it's another corner. Good early pressure from the hosts.

The next corner nearly goes in - it's an inswinger that hits the bar. That looked deliberate.

Arsenal then clear then next corner and can breathe...

12:19 PM

2 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

Early free-kick for Southampton. Ward-Prowse floats in a ball which Leno rushes out to collect, commanding from the Arsenal keeper.

12:18 PM

2 mins: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

I expect Southampton to try get at the visitors early on, they're the stronger side today and will want to make an early impression.

For those watching in black and white the hosts are in red and Arsenal are in the away dark blue strip.

12:16 PM

1 min: Southampton 0-0 Arsenal

We're under way at St Mary's, the sun is shining but it is quite cold...

12:15 PM

The challenge facing Southampton today

Arsenal have registered five consecutive clean sheets and won four of the past seven FA Cups - impressive

FA CUP 
FA CUP

12:09 PM

Danny the Champion of the South Coast

12:04 PM

The coaches speak

Ralph Hasenhuttl on his priorities…

“Both matches (today’s Cup clash and next week’s Premier League game) are important us, we want to win both matches.”

Arteta on today's challenge…

“Today we play in our favourite competition. It’s very much linked to our football club and we have to defend it because we are the winners. But we know we are facing a really tough opponent today.”

Arteta on no Aubameyang…

“He had a personal matter in the last few hours and we had to send him back."

11:58 AM

Superb Southampton

We all know that Southampton are having a good season and that Ralph Hasenhuttl is one of the best coaches around. Beef up your knowledge of the coach and the south-coast club by reading JJ Bull's piece on how Southampton have become a Premier League force.

JJ breaks down the side's impressive campaign so far.

"Southampton are enjoying the benefits of clear vision, excellent coaching, and patience...By letting Ralph Hasenhuttl work his magic and stick to the plan, they have become one of the most difficult teams in the league to play against."

11:45 AM

One for the Arsenal fans

11:44 AM

Here be Arsenal

Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric, Elneny, Xhaka, Pepe, Willian, Martinelli, Nketiah; Subs: Saka, Lacazette, Rúnarsson, Maitland-Niles, Partey, Chambers, David Luiz, Willock, Ryan

So initial impressions - this is definitely a 'Cup' selection, there's no Aubameyang in the squad, Gabriel Martinelli returns after injury problems. He starts up front with Eddie Nketiah in two of seven changes from last week's league win over Newcastle. Nicolas Pepe and Willian will provide the midfield thrust with Saka on the bench and Smith Rowe not in the squad.

11:37 AM

Ralph reveals his cards

Southampton: Forster, Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Stephens, Bertrand, Diallo, Ward-Prowse, Armstrong, Walcott, Ings, Adams; Subs: Long, Valery, Vokins, Ramsay, N’Lundulu, Lewis, Jankewitz, Watts, Chauke

There are six changes from the side that beat Shrewsbury in the third round in midweek. Danny Ings is back for the first time since scoring the winner against Liverpool. Since then the striker has been recovering from Covid.

It’s a strong side and not too dissimilar to how you’d expect them to line up in the Premier League. Che Adams partners Ings up front, Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand return at full-back, with former Arsenal man Theo Walcott also returning.

11:14 AM

The magic of momentum (and the Cup...)

Time always moves quickly in football, but this season it seems to have got itself in a hurry and gone into warp-speed. That can no better be seen than with Arsenal and, to a lesser extent, Southampton.

A month ago Arsenal were in trouble. They looked devoid of ideas and attacking intent and, what’s worse, were losing. Since Boxing Day, however, they have won five matches in all competitions and, much to their fans’ relief, seemingly have found their mojo.

Youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are looking like world-beaters and the more established stars, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Kieran Tierney have found their form. Suddenly all is well at the Emirates and the side and fans approach matches without the dread of October and November and in expectation rather than mere misjudged hope.

This season has once again highlighted what a fine coach Ralph Hasenhuttl is. Southampton have looked good and been in and around the top six most of the campaign. But since mid-December - victory over Liverpool aside - they have got into a rut. They have scored just two goals in their past five Premier League matches and fallen back to ninth in the table - one spot and two points above today’s opponents.

Ralph Hasenhuttl - GETTY IMAGES
Ralph Hasenhuttl - GETTY IMAGES

This is an FA Cup tie, of course, but matches like these, regardless of how seriously sides take them (more on that later), can add and build momentum. Which considering the pair face each other in the league next week will doubtless be part of the coaches mindset coming into today’s match.

Hasenhuttl says he has no intention of prioritising either game and has simply told his side to win both matches.

"I'd prefer winning both to be honest, if it's possible we'll do it, but I know it's tough," the Southampton boss said.

"Yes, we have the chance to. On our day we can beat any team in the league, we've shown this, especially at home.

"I think this is the goal we have. Yes, tough like always, but not impossible.”

Stay here for the team news and pre-match build up.