Ten-man Arsenal grabbed a 2-2 draw in a pulsating encounter at Southampton on Tuesday evening.
Arsène Wenger’s side seemed to have wiped aside a disappointing first-half display when Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla struck in the opening seven minutes of the second period.
The double salvo wiped out Jose Fonte’s header for Southampton after 21 minutes.
However Adam Lallana equalised almost immediately and both sides had their chances to snaffle all three points in a hugely-enjoyable Premier League game.
Arsenal’s hopes were dented 10 minutes from time when Mathieu Flamini was sent off for a two-footed tackle.
On the balance of the 90 minutes, the draw was fair and extends Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table to two points.
However the stalemate has opened an opportunity for Manchester City and Chelsea who play their game in hand on Wednesday night.
Still this was a battling point against team who played close to their peak.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsène Wenger retained only Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Serge Gnabry from the FA Cup victory over Coventry on Friday night.
The seven additions were Nacho Monreal, Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Mathieu Flamini, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta. The boss was shuffling his resources.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino made significant selections himself – 18-year-old striker Sam Gallagher was handed a full debut after scoring against Yeovil at the weekend, Victor Wanyama was back on the bench after more than a month out.
Southampton started at brisk pace and would barely relent throughout the opening 45 minutes. They dominated the opening stages and caused Arsenal a couple of bona fide scares.
Lallana’s header was nodded off the goalline by Giroud after three minutes then Per Mertesacker missed Luke Shaw’s cross and the ball ricocheted just wide off the unwitting Gallagher.
In the eighth minute, Jay Rodriguez robbed Monreal in the area and the Scotland Under-19 striker let fly with a fierce effort. Szczesny reacted superbly to bat the ball away.
Finally, Morgan Schneiderlin hacked a volley horribly wide when he should have hit the target.
We reached the quarter-hour with Arsenal having barely mustered an attack. Southampton were dominating in every sense.
Ironically the pressure appeared to have eased just a little when the home side went ahead in the 21th minute.
Shaw sent over a deep cross from the left-hand side and Fonte scrambled above Monreal to head low past Szczesny at the near post. The Arsenal defender believed he had been fouled but his protests were waved away.
Arsenal had a strong shout for a penalty when Fonte appeared to handle Cazorla’s cross seven minutes later.
Having taken the lead Southampton sat a little further back but they should have doubled their advantage just before half-time when Monreal’s clearance deflected off Steven Davis to the feet of Gallagher six yards out in front of goal.
Fortunately for Arsenal, the youngster slid his shot wide from point blank wide. A huge let-off.
Three minutes from the whistle, Koscielny made a tremendous block from Gallagher. Another massive relief.
On 45, the Frenchman nearly gave the visitors parity when he thrust out a leg after Mertesacker nodded on Ozil’s corner. Artur Boruc made a stunning save from close range.
But Southampton were full value for their lead at the break.
The start of the second half was stunning.
Arsenal were level within three minutes of the restart. All Southampton’s hard work was wiped out as Sagna muscled past his marker and fired low into the area from the right hand side.
The swiveling Giroud nudged a back heel just inside the far post.
Four minutes later, Arsenal had the lead. Ozil ghosted in from the right and Cazorla arrowed a low shot into the far corner from just outside the area.
The visiting fans were ecstatic; Arsenal had completed their turnaround.
And then Southampton spoiled the story by equalising.
Rodriguez raced down the left and dragged the ball back for Lallana to sweep home.
The game was now end-to-end. Arsenal forced a flurry of corners; Schneiderlin attempted to find the far corner for Southampton.
In the 63rd minute, Ozil showed a burst of speed to drive through the Southampton defence but his deflected shot dropped on to the top of bar.
Wenger swapped Gnabry for Oxlade-Chamberlain midway through the second half.
Arsenal were now starting to exert their experience. Flamini hacked an effort over the bar then Arteta release Monreal who did likewise.
The visitors were just gearing themselves for a final push when Flamini was dismissed for a two-footed challenge on Schneiderlin.
It was the first red card of the Frenchman’s career with Arsenal.
In response, Wenger substituted Gibbs for Cazorla as he tried to see out the game.
Shaw nearly won it for Southampton in the final minutes but Szczesny clawed the ball away from under his own bar. Then he saved well after Fonte met the resulting corner with a firm volley.
A decent point on the night but it might have been more.
Referee: Lee Mason
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