ARSENE Wenger called Southampton miracle workers and they enhanced their reputation not only with a result to celebrate but also with the sheer standard of the performance. Having recalibrated their team over the summer, they played with a slickness and cohesion that was mightily impressive.
This was quite a statement of intent from Ronald Koeman, attacking the Capital One Cup with absolute commitment. It was a bone of contention last season that Mauricio Pochettino rested so many in the FA Cup and Southampton felt they more or less threw themselves out of a competition they could have fared well in.
The crest of the Southampton wave shows no sign of descent. Even going behind to Arsenal at the Emirates, as Alexis SÃ¡nchez opened the scoring with a beautifully crafted free-kick, did not interrupt their momentum for long. Their boldness allied to a committed sense of teamwork made it difficult to believe there are so many new cogs in their collective.
â€œIâ€™m proud of the team,â€ Koeman said. â€œWe had a lot of changes in the team and the board did a lot to bring in good players to continue what the team did last season. We have showed our ambition but I realise football can change fast and we have to keep our feet on the ground.â€
Koeman is saying, and more importantly doing, all the right things. Another string to Southamptonâ€™s bow was evident as Sadio ManÃ© made an eventful debut. Linking up with the powerful Graziano PellÃ¨ and the polished Dusan Tadic, there is great variety in a new-look attack. ManÃ© is so fast sometimes it looks as if his feet cannot catch up and he made a quick impact to help Southampton back into the game.
He showed trickery to bolt towards the penalty box. Tomas Rosickyâ€™s challenge made contact, even if the Senegalese attacker was eager to tumble, and the referee, Keith Stroud, awarded a spot-kick. Tadic stroked his penalty down the middle of David Ospinaâ€™s goal.
Southampton are made of spirited stuff and took the lead when Nathaniel Clyne latched on to a clearance then took the breath away with a belting strike from distance. Arsenal could feel disappointed on two fronts â€“ no one was anywhere near Clyne to attempt to close him down, and Ospina, making his debut, will not look back on the match with great affection. The ball swerved and left him bewildered.
It was a challenging night for Arsenalâ€™s back four, who had three players with little more than a handful of first-team appearances. It was also a tall order for Abou Diaby in a new anchoring role in midfield. It was hardly surprising he trotted slowly, struggling with the invigorating pace of the game, given that his relentless injuries made it a first start for 18 months.
But it was further forward that Arsenal had fewer excuses. While SÃ¡nchez worked tirelessly as usual, the support did not come so easily. Joel Campbell flitted in and out of the evening. Lukas Podolski, who had one shot repelled by the excellent Fraser Forster, toiled to little effect on the left. They, together with Rosicky, form the group who feel they ought to be getting more playing time but the opportunity to impress passed them by as Arsenal felt the force of Southamptonâ€™s endeavour and solidity.
The strength in the Saintsâ€™ midfield gave Koemanâ€™s team great balance, allowing them to tuck back and help at the back, or spring forward to launch attacks. Koeman is looking forward to even more improvement as Saints get to know each other more. â€œItâ€™s the beginning. This team can do much better,â€ he said. The chances were there to make the scoreline more emphatic. At the other end Forster saved brilliantly from SÃ¡nchez.
â€œWe have to be realistic,â€ said Wenger of the rotation needed in his squad before a big week that includes a Champions League tie with Galatasaray sandwiched between two spicy derbies against Tottenham and Chelsea.
Southampton could simply beam and march merrily on. – The Guardian