Saints fight back to hold Arsenal


Southampton picked up their fifth point in a week, becoming only the second Premier League team this season to deny Arsenal victory in an absorbing draw at St Mary’s.

The Gunners might have held a more commanding lead than the 1-0 half-time advantage given to them by rejuvenated midfielder Granit Xhaka in the 11th minute, having squandered further chances as the league leaders started impressively.

But Saints were much improved after the interval, drawing level through Stuart Armstrong’s first goal of the season on 65 minutes, as the hosts took the game to Arsenal.

The visitors, desperate to re-establish the four-point lead they held before the weekend, pushed for a winner and thought they had found it through Martin Ødegaard, but the ball had run out of play in the build-up, and Saints, still pushing for a winner themselves, settled for a point that takes them to three games unbeaten.

Ralph Hasenhüttl made three changes to his side following the 1-0 win at Bournemouth in midweek that lifted Saints out of the relegation zone – all of which were enforced.

Kyle Walker-Peters pulled up with a hamstring injury at the Vitality Stadium, while Ché Adams was only fit enough for a place on the bench having struggled with a minor hamstring issue himself in the days since Saints’ last outing. Elsewhere, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who is on loan from Arsenal, was ineligible to feature against his parent club.

That meant a tactical reshuffle as Lyanco slotted in at right-back, with Ibrahima Diallo and Stuart Armstrong coming into the Saints midfield and Joe Arbo pushing forward to partner Adam Armstrong up front.

Coming into the game on the back of nine wins from their first ten league outings, Arsenal were full of confidence, and tore into Saints in the opening minutes.

Gabriel Jesus was denied by Gavin Bazunu in the first minute, only for the offside flag to be raised retrospectively, before Bukayo Saka’s delicious cross only just eluded defender Gabriel at the far post.

Bazunu was soon busy again, blocking Xhaka’s low drive from a narrow angle with his legs, before the Swiss international turned provider for Ødegaard, who should have done better than steer his first-time shot wide from 18 yards.

Arsenal’s fast start was duly rewarded after 11 minutes, when Ben White’s low cross was ruthlessly dispatched on the half-volley by Xhaka, who thumped it high into the net past Bazunu, who never stood a chance of saving it.

The goal did provide Saints with some temporary respite, as the hosts began to enjoy some sustained possession for the first time, but Arsenal’s forward line possesses explosive pace and the visitors carried a constant threat on the counter-attack.

When Ødegaard released Jesus, the Brazilian weaved his way into shooting range, but when he let fly on his left foot the angle was tight, and he fired into the side-netting.

Next to race clear from another rapid breakaway was Saka, but as he tried to dart inside Duje Ćaleta-Car, the England international went down claiming a touch from the defender, and referee Robert Jones booked the winger for taking a dive.

A flurry of corners in the final ten minutes of the half did give Arsenal some uncomfortable moments, as James Ward-Prowse targeted the front of the six-yard box, but the visitors were able to see them all off.

Saints might have been relieved to get in at half time still very much alive in the contest after Gabriel Martinelli’s shot deflected wide and then Ødegaard’s clever chip was volleyed goalwards by Jesus, who should have scored but hit his shot straight at Bazunu.

Sights of goal were few and far between for Hasenhüttl’s side, but some very tight footwork from Aribo down by the corner flag offered Romain Perraud the chance to pick out Stuart Armstrong for a rare shot at goal, but the Scot’s effort lacked conviction.

Slowly but surely, Saints grew in belief after the interval, with Perraud offering a constant outlet on the left, and Adam Armstrong’s industry giving an out ball for his teammates.

It was from a cross by Stuart Armstrong that Mohamed Elyounoussi was just caught on his heels, when he might have sensed a tap-in at the far post, but the Norwegian more than made up for it with some outstanding last-man defending, sliding in to dispossess Jesus when the striker was put through by Arsenal architect Ødegaard.

It was the same combination of Saints attackers that wiped out the Gunners’ lead 20 minutes into the second half, bringing St Mary’s to its feet.

Perraud led the break once again, ignoring the run of Adam Armstrong, which created space for Elyounoussi to join in on the right. Carrying the ball towards the penalty area, the midfielder spotted the run of Stuart Armstrong and rolled a pass in behind the defence for the Scot to finish with tremendous composure, slotting the ball first time across Aaron Ramsdale and into the far corner before the keeper could set himself.

It was like every Saints player had been injected with a shot of confidence. Suddenly it was coursing through the home side, as Perraud attempted an audacious half-volley that sailed wide, before cutting the ball back for Aribo, who got his shot away in a crowded box but Ramsdale held on.

Hasenhüttl freshened things up soon after, introducing Adams and Theo Walcott, the latter making his first appearance of the season, for Adam Armstrong and Aribo.

With the game hanging in the balance, Arsenal were desperate to turn one point into three, and thought they’d done so with 11 minutes left when substitute Kieran Tierney cut the ball back from the byline for Ødegaard to dispatch from on the penalty spot, but the visiting celebrations were cut short when Jones judged the ball had run out of play in the build-up.

Hasenhüttl’s third substitute, Samuel Edozie, breathed fresh impetus into the attack in the closing stages as Saints gave as good as they got, but the home crowd were happy enough with a share of the spoils against an Arsenal side who arrived at St Mary’s with a virtually unblemished record.