Saints' long unbeaten league run came to an end at Arsenal. The evenly matched contest was settled by a dreadful goalkeeping error and a penalty. Mauricio Pochettino's side put in a decent enough performance, and can take plenty of positives from the occasion.
The first 10 minutes were fairly cagey. Saints pressed intensely early on, but the home side coped pretty well on the whole. The visitors put together some decent interchanges without really testing Wojciech Szczesny. Jack Wilshere came very close to an opener for Arsenal on 11 minutes, only to see his chipped effort come back off the post. The Gunners were soon in the ascendancy, forcing their opponents back with a sustained spell of pressure. Saints didn't leave too many gaps in defence, but the hosts still managed to find a way through a couple of times. Aaron Ramsey hit the woodwork with a clever back-heel.
The deadlock was broken in the 22nd minute. Artur Boruc received a routine pass from Nathaniel Clyne inside his penalty area. The Polish keeper attempted to manoeuvre the ball across his body, but the onrushing Olivier Giroud read his dummy. Boruc had numerous opportunities to clear the ball, but was eventually robbed by Giroud following a failed attempt at a Cruyff turn. This was far worse than the Stoke incident, which was kind of a fluke. Boruc usually out-foxes his opponents in those situations, but his overconfidence got the better of him on this occasion. Giroud had a simple tap in after robbing the ball away.
Saints responded fairly well to that setback. Pochettino's men probably just about edged the rest of the first half. Saints had a series of corners, and then went close when James Ward-Prowse's free-kick made its way to Adam Lallana. The England man saw his dipping shot tipped over. That was the first and only major chance of the opening 45 for the visitors.
Luke Shaw was forced off at half-time with an injury. Steven Davis came on, with Clyne switching to left-back and Ward-Prowse to right-back. Saints enjoyed their best spell of the game just after the break. The away side moved the ball with pace and purpose. A neat move between Rickie Lambert and Ward-Prowse on the right-hand side opened things up. Lambert's long ball was taken down by Morgan Schneiderlin on the edge of the box. He back-heeled it to Lallana, who fired straight at Szezensy, with a couple of Arsenal defenders obstructing his path to goal.
That was last major action Lallana was involved in. The skipper was subbed off for Dani Osvaldo shortly after. The change did little to improve things for the visitors, who struggled for creativity during the final half-hour. Osvaldo did have a half-chance, but Rodriguez was the only Saints player who looked likely to make something happen during the latter stages. The tempo slowed as the game wore on, with Arsenal gradually regaining control. Victor Wanyama blasted over following a corner. Substitute Theo Walcott then shot wide against his former club.
Three points were all but guaranteed for Arsenal in the 86th minute when Giroud tucked away his spot kick. The Gunners were awarded the penalty when Jose Fonte was caught holding Per Mertesacker's shirt. It was a blatant infringement, but also the type of incident that referees often turn a blind eye to. Fonte should have known better, having been punished for a similar foul at West Ham last season. Saints offered nothing in the closing stages, with Arsenal cruising to victory and stretching their lead at the top.
There was plenty of worry within the away end when it was announced that Dejan Lovren was missing from the starting line-up. Saints fans needn't have been so fearful, however. Few would dispute that Lovren is a better player than Jos Hooiveld, but it's not really about individuals in this setup. Our fine defensive record has more to do with the system, organisation and team ethic than any one player. Hooiveld did a decent job in Lovren's absence, and we looked just as solid at the back as we have all season. It was barely noticeable that one of our top performers was missing, which underlines the strength of the system.
Our ball retention was very good, and some of the football we played at times was stunning. We didn't really do enough in the final third, however. Arsenal did an excellent job of limiting Lambert and Osvaldo. The few chances we did have were squandered. It's a shame the game had to be settled the way it was. On the balance of play we might have been worthy of a draw. It was one of, if not the toughest fixture we'll face all season, so we shouldn't get too downhearted about the result. The defeat was far from costly, and if we continue to set out like that then we are sure to start picking up points again soon.
Boruc: 4. No excuse for the mistake. Looked unconvincing throughout
Clyne: 7. Occasionally a bit sloppy on the ball, but some brilliant timed tackles on Kieran Gibbs
Fonte: 6. Good at bringing the ball out from the back. A reasonable display overall apart from a few minor errors
Hooiveld: 7. Kept it simple in possession. Looked fairly comfortable defensively
Shaw: 7. Shame he had to come off at half-time because he was performing very well done the left flank
Schneiderlin: 8. Strong at both ends of the pitch. Complemented Wanyama superbly
Wanyama: 8. So effective at breaking up play. Possibly his best outing in a Saints shirt to date
Ward-Prowse: 7. Sprayed the ball about well in the first half as you would expect. Did well in the unfamiliar role of right-back, but naturally had less of an influence on proceedings in that position
Lallana: 7. Looked dangerous in the final third at times
Rodriguez: 7. Very bright in spells. Made a number of impressive solo runs
Lambert: 5. Struggled to get involved in the game
Davis: 5. Steady on the ball, but didn't really offer much in the way of creativity
Osvaldo: 5. Didn't get much service, and largely wasteful on the times he did get the ball