Arsenal moved four points clear at the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Southampton at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Olivier Giroud grabbed both goals. A late second from the penalty spot would seal the game but the first set up the victory.
And that was entirely his own work.
In the 22nd minute the Frenchman hassled Artur Boruc into an error as the keeper tried to dribble the ball out and then tapped into an empty net.
The goal was utterly deserved at the time but Southampton would respond with all the drive and determination we have come to expect from them this season. Mauricio Pochettino’s side posed many questions of the Arsenal defence. But they stood firm and, behind them, Wojciech Szczesny dealt with any opportunity that penetrated.
This was not pretty, pretty Arsenal. They were Wengeresque until they scored but, after that, rolled up their sleeves and dug in.
Still, there are many ways to win a title and this is definitely one of them.
Arsenal roll on.
SETTING THE SCENEIt had been two long weeks since Arsenal had last been in action. So an extra 15-minute delay due to travel disruption seemed excruciating.
Wenger’s side showed one change from the XI that had been narrowly defeated at Manchester United. Mathieu Flamini picked up his fifth booking of the season at Old Trafford so Jack Wilshere came in.
This was first versus third in the Premier League table and undoubtedly the game of the day. Before kick-off the team inbetween, Liverpool, had scrambled a point in the Merseyside derby.
So opportunity knocked once again at Emirates Stadium this afternoon.
The early stages were sedate. Southampton had arrived with the best defensive record in the Premier League – five goals conceded in their first 11 games.
They set up in an organised fashion and onus was on Arsenal to break them down.
And that is what they did.
Arsenal grabbed the lead in the first half through sheer will.
In the 11th minute, Aaron Ramsey intercepted on the edge of the area and his pass deflected into the path of Wilshere on the right. He reached the byline and dinked a wonderful chip over Boruc. It drifted on to the far post and into the hands of the grateful keeper.
Then, five minutes later, Arsenal hit the same upright when Mesut Ozil’s cross picked out Ramsey with a pin-point cross and the Welshman produced a clever back-flick.
Arsenal were full of controlled creativity. They were prepared to chase and harry Southampton out of their stride then use their guile to prise them apart.
The epitome of that was the opening goal.
In the 22nd minute Giroud chased a regulation pass back to Boruc. The keeper tried the trick his way out of trouble rather than clear. The Frenchman robbed him and gleefully prodded his ninth goal of the season into the empty net.
However Southampton would muscle soon their way back into the game in response to going behind.
They pressured down their right and came close when Mikel Arteta sliced a clearance to Adam Lallana on the edge of the area. The England international unleashed a volley that Szczesny had to tip over.
Six minutes before the break Jay Rodriguez forced the keeper to make another fine save away to his left.
At the break, Arsenal had the lead but Southampton were making it hard for them to retain that advantage.
SECOND HALFThe visitors continued to pressure after half-time. The impressive Morgan Schneiderlin expertly set up Lallana to drive straight at Szczesny early on.
It was a measure of Southampton’s confidence. Despite the scoreline, they were happy to press for an equaliser straight away.
At this point, the raw statistics suggested they were enjoying greater possession than the home team and passing marginally better. Both were unusual for an away side at Emirates Stadium.
Ozil fired into the arms of Boruc on the hour as Arsenal relieved some of the pressure on their goal. Then, just before Theo Walcott came on, Wilshere headed straight at the keeper.
However Arsenal had not regained full control and their cause was hindered further when Arteta had to go off 16 minutes from time.
But Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny stood firm as Arsenal wore down Southampton and blunted their attack.
By now the visitors were becoming desperate and Walcott was the perfect player to capitalise. In the 82nd minute he drove just wide after a counterattack.
Shortly afterwards Jose Fonte hauled back Mertesacker at a corner and Giroud stroked home from the spot.
A forgettable game perhaps but a crucial three points.
Southampton are a good side but, on the evidence of today, Arsenal are better.
Make no mistake, they lead the Premier League on merit.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
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