Arsene Wenger has missed his first-choice central midfield pairing and other things we learned from Arsenal 0 Southampton 0
By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Wenger pays striker price
This was Arsenal’s third consecutive Premier League match without a goal, a run that is seriously undermining their title bid. Just as they did at St Mary’s Stadium on Boxing Day, Southampton managed to shut out Wenger’s team. On that occasion, the entire Gunners side sunk without trace. The story in the reverse fixture was of an attack lacking teeth. “Our finishing is very bad at the moment,” Wenger admitted. It looked a risk in August when the manager failed to add firepower to his front line and it looks a risk now.
The Cazorla-Coquelin partnership is missed
That Arsenal have managed to stay in the title race while being without their first-choice central midfielders for two-and-a-half months is testament to the environment Wenger has created and the most open title race in years. Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini have performed capably as a duo over the last two month but Arsenal have badly missed the partnership of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, which was the bedrock of the team’s improvement in 2015. The beauty-and-the-beast partnership should be in harness again within the next few weeks. It’s return may mean a re-positioning of Ramsey but cannot come soon enough as far as the team is concerned.
Sanchez and Ozil give taste of things to come
This was the first time the superstar duo had started together since Norwich away on 29 November. Arsenal did not score but, as Wenger pointed out afterwards, had 22 shots on goal. Mezut Ozil was guilty of casualness when he failed to convert from Alexis Sanchez’s sumptuously-weighted through ball in the first half, but there were some encouraging signs that the pair can still be decisive for the Gunners in the final months of the season.
Gabriel is better option than Mertesacker
Opponents have been targeting Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace for a long time now, but the German’s lack of mobility is outweighed by his experience and positional nous. After his horribly clumsy challenge against Diego Costa in the recent 1-0 defeat to Chelsea, which led to a red card and one-match suspension, the sense grew that highly promising Brazilian defender Gabriel would appear to be a better option. Even the famously loyal Wenger may start to sway with public opinion. Mertesacker was left on the bench against Southampton, with Gabriel selected in his stead. The German may have to get used to life on the sidelines.
Koeman is Wenger’s new bogey manager
Ronald Koeman has gleefully taken up the mantle left by Jose Mourinho as Arsene Wenger’s premier managerial nemesis. The result at Emirates Stadium means Arsene Wenger’s record against the Dutchman now stands at just two games won out of eleven games played. The two even indulged in verbal handbags afterwards. For such a charming and erudite man, Wenger is capable of creating managerial enemies.