Saints bounce back in style


Southampton showed their defensive mettle to shut down Arsenal and return to winning ways with an organised display full of resilience and determination at St Mary’s.

Jan Bednarek struck the only goal of the game right at the end of the first half, pouncing on Mohamed Elyounoussi’s cutback to fire home the winner.

But the star of the show was Fraser Forster, who made one outstanding save to deny Bukayo Saka whilst the game was goalless, and another from Emile Smith Rowe as Arsenal chased a second-half equaliser.

Ralph Hasenhüttl, determined to see a reaction from his side, made four changes following last weekend’s heavy home defeat to Chelsea.

A new-look back five included recalls for Yan Valery, Romain Perraud and Lyanco – the latter making his first Premier League start in three months, having returned from a hamstring injury.

Elsewhere, Armando Broja was ineligible to face his parent club but was restored to the attack to face the Gunners, buoyed by Tottenham’s home defeat to Brighton in the early kick-off.

Tino Livramento, Mohammed Salisu, Ché Adams and Adam Armstrong were the unlucky quartet to drop to the bench.

Saints set up with a 5-4-1 formation, sitting behind the ball whilst ready to spring forward when opportunities arose.

The first of those saw Armando Broja tiptoe his way to the byline and deliver a teasing low cross that was only just missing a final touch from one of his teammates.

At the other end, Gabriel Martinelli jinked inside and set his sights on the bottom corner with a low curling shot, but Forster was down sharply to his right, parrying the ball to safety with a strong wrist to diffuse the danger.

But it was his save from Saka that will live long in the memory, bailing out Valery who had given the ball away in a dangerous area.

The Frenchman’s square pass to Lyanco was intercepted by Eddie Nketiah, who found Gabriel Martinelli to his right, before the ball was sent back across goal for Saka at the far post.

With the odds stacked in the youngster’s favour, Forster flung himself to his right and miraculously clawed out Saka’s shot one-handed to keep Saints on level terms.

There were intermittent chances at both ends but none better than Saka’s, as Stuart Armstrong seized on a loose ball from Bednarek’s long throw to send Aaron Ramsdale stooping to his left on 25 minutes.

Mikel Arteta would have hoped for more from his side, who seemed to be lacking urgency in their quest for a top-four finish.

Twice Saints committed fouls near the corner flag, one of which Lyanco was booked for, but both times Cédric wasted the set-piece, much to the amusement of his former supporters.

When the breakthrough came, it was from an unlikely source. Bednarek had stayed forward from a James Ward-Prowse corner, and when Perraud hooked the ball back into the danger zone, Elyounoussi cut it back from the byline and the Polish defender hammered it in from eight yards, leaving Ramsdale unable to react as the ball brushed his arm on its way into the net.

The visitors remained somewhat tentative as an attacking force in the early stages of the second half, though Nketiah and Martinelli were both afforded half-chances, if that, to level things up.

But it was the introduction of Smith Rowe on the hour that gave Arsenal fresh impetus.

Whilst Saints were not coming under any intense pressure, they were sitting deep and inviting their opponents forward.

Saka drilled a strike narrowly wide from 20 yards as the hosts restricted the Gunners to long shots, but Hasenhüttl would have been happy enough with that.

Forster was commanding his box well, showing good authority to deal with crosses, but had not been called upon to make a notable save since denying Saka in the first half.

That changed on 73 minutes, when Smith Rowe followed in a loose ball in the box but rather scuffed his shot into the ground.

It still seemed destined for the bottom corner as time stood still, but Forster was quick enough to scamper across his goal and dive full length to help it around the post.

This was a goalkeeper at the top of his game, as further saves followed from Saka and Granit Xhaka – the latter another full-length, fingertip stop – while Martin Ødegaard dragged a presentable chance wide from the edge of the box.

Shane Long did a fine job of helping Saints get up the pitch in the closing stages, winning free-kicks and frustrating the visitors, but their main source of anguish was the unbeatable Forster, who fully deserved his clean sheet.