01/01/2015: Saints 2-0 Arsenal
Saints' good form continued with an impressive 2-0 win over Arsenal at St Marys. Ronald Koeman's men were actually below their best for spells of the match, but also could have won by a much greater margin.
Arsenal were much sharper on the ball in the early going. The Gunners pressed well, and Saints looked slightly edgy in contrast. The home side attacked with long balls early on, before adopting a more patient passing approach after the opening quarter. Graziano Pelle went close on 7, heading on to the post from Dusan Tadic's cross.
Santi Cazorla was played in by Tomas Rosicky on 20, only to see his shot well saved by Fraser Forster. Alex Chamberlain then curled just wide of the post. Arsenal were edging it in midfield, with Saints struggling for fluency in attack. The opener came almost out of nothing. James Ward-Prowse played a routine ball up the line. Sadio Mane did well to get beyond his man, but it looked as if nothing was on when Wojciech Szczesny came out to narrow the angle. Mane turned outside the area on the right, before curling the ball into the back of the net from what seemed a near impossible angle.
That goal briefly galvanised Saints. Mane cut the ball back for Ward-Prowse on 40. His effort was blocked; while Tadic's acrobatic follow up went over. Harrison Reed came for the injured Mane, adding some much needed protection to the back four. Saints had been susceptible to Arsenal's counters and looked nervy towards the end of the first-half.
Saints made a slightly slow start to the 2nd half, but found plenty of gaps every time they broke forward. Forster did well to thwart Alexis Sanchez on 55. Saints then went straight down the other end to make it 2-0. Steven Davis brilliantly took down Victor Wanyama's long pass before playing the ball across goal. Some poor Arsenal defending allowed Dusan Tadic to poke the ball in.
Saints almost immediately made it 3-0, with Tadic shooting on the turn from outside of the area. Pelle then hit the post, with Ward-Prowse blasting over on the rebound. On 65 Tadic latched on to Laurent Koscielny's slack back-pass. He played in Pelle, who had his side-footed shot headed off the line by Mathieu Debuchy.
Arsenal saw quite a bit of the ball during the last 20 minutes, but never really looked like breaking through. Sanchez's free-kick went just over the bar. Saints had a decent chance, with Ward-Prowse testing Szczesny following another flowing move. Going into the last 10 minutes Arsenal ran out of ideas, with Saints seeing out the game comfortably.
It sounds a bit weird to say Saints perhaps didn't play as well as they were capable of after creating so many chances, but the attacking rhythm wasn't quite there for much of the first half and for spells in the second. There were a few individual errors at the back too, but generally the team defended well. It's surely a good sign that Saints are capable of beating a fellow European challenger when they aren't at their best, though. Koeman's side are very much over their blip and look as if they'll be in the race for a top 6 spot for a while longer.
Forster: 7. Always well positioned. Made a number of decent saves, although nothing you wouldn't expect him to deal with
Alderweireld: 7. Great technique on the ball once again and sound defensively
Fonte: 7. Competed well in the air and on the ground
Gardos: 6. Never really looked at ease on the ball, and perhaps a bit lucky not to have been sent off
Bertrand: 7. Used his pace to good effect. Provided some good crosses too
Wanyama: 8. Showed his class on and off the ball
Ward-Prowse: 7. Slightly iffy defensively in the early going, but timed his forward runs well and some good passing. Only let down by his finishing
Davis: 7. Incredible touch for the second goal. Always looked dangerous threading balls forward on the break
Tadic: 7. Took a while to get into the game, but absolutely explosive at the start of the 2nd half. A real bag of tricks
Mane: 7. Shame he had to go off so early, but deserves credit for the goal alone. Will be missed this month as he departs for Africa Cup of Nations duty
Pelle: 7. A handful in the penalty area once again
Reed: 7. Strong in the tackle again
Yoshida: 6. Helped to see out the game with some steady play
Long: Made a few runs into the channel, but nothing really notable
Saints - Mane (34) Tadic (56)
Attendance - 31,492 (3,215 Arsenal fans)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Saints: Forster, Alderweireld, Fonte, Gardos (Yoshida 71), Bertrand, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse , S Davis, Tadic (Long 85), Mane (Reed 42), Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Targett, McCarthy, Isgrove
Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy (Akpom 84), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Chambers (Walcott 60), Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Rosicky, Sanchez
Subs not used: Martinez, Monreal, Bellerin, Maitland-Niles, Campbell