By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal have been knocked out of the Capital One Cup after a disappointing home defeat to Southampton on Tuesday night.
Arsene Wenger named a much-changed side for this third-round clash, and they lacked much of the attacking fluency that had marked Saturday’s victory at Aston Villa.
While there were certainly some positives, most notably the performance of Alexis Sanchez, they were up against a well-drilled Saints side who posed a real threat and created most of the major chances.
The Gunners grabbed the lead in the 13th minute when Alexis curled home an inch-perfect free kick from 25 yards to leave Fraser Forster stranded.
But the Saints hit back soon afterwards when Tomas Rosicky felled Sadio Mane in the area and Dusan Tadic converted from the penalty spot.
The momentum was suddenly with the visitors, and not long after Graziano Pelle had hit the post, they took the lead when Nathaniel Clyne drove home from long range.
Wenger’s side found it tough going and chances were hard to come by in the second half. Alexis had the best of them when he met a Hector Bellerin cross with 20 minutes remaining, but Forster brilliantly blocked his shot at the near post.
Despite some desperate last waves of attack, there was no way through and the final whistle signalled the end of the Gunners’ League Cup campaign.
SETTING THE SCENE
Having returned to form in such fine style at Villa Park on Saturday, the Gunners came into this game with confidence restored. But with huge matches against Tottenham and Chelsea looming in the near distance, the tie offered Wenger a welcome chance to shuffle his pack.
However, this would not be a youthful starting XI thrown into action for the very first time. In front of another sell-out crowd at Emirates Stadium,the Arsenal manager named a strong side that included internationals such as Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski and Jack Wilshere.
There was also a first glimpse of David Ospina in goal and a first start for Abou Diaby in 18 months, while Joel Campbell - so impressive during the World Cup with Costa Rica - had a chance to stake his claim on the right flank.
Where there was some relative inexperience was at the back where, at 23, Francis Coquelin was the senior citizen and stationed alongside teenagers Isaac Hayden, Hector Bellerin and Calum Chambers.
They would be tested by slick Saints side who had made a fine start to the season despite a well-publicised summer exodus. Lying second in the table and including six of the side that started Saturday’s 1-0 win at Swansea, they were in fine form and certainly not short of confidence. It was a finely-poised tie.
Wenger had praised Southampton’s “miracle workers” after their impressive start to the season, and they showed their threat straight away when Steven Davis raced through only to be denied by a sprawling Ospina.
But the Gunners soon started to work through the gears, and not long after Rosicky had glanced a header straight at Fraser Forster they took the lead.
It came after the busy Alexis had been shoved over in a central position 25 yards from goal. The Chile international has already shown his dead-ball prowess this season with a series of fine deliveries, but this time he went for goal - and what a strike it was as he curled it right into the top-left hand corner.
It was his fourth goal in his last five games, but Arsenal’s lead did not last long as the Saints hit back from the penalty spot after Rosicky took down Mane in the area and Tadic stroked home from the spot.
It was an open, entertaining affair and soon afterwards the visitors threatened again as Graziano Pelle ran into space before striking the post with a firm effort.
The tide had turned and, in the 39th minute, the visitors grabbed the lead as Clyne raced on to Chambers’ headed clearance to arrow the ball beyond Ospina from 30 yards. It was some strike.
Arsenal nearly hit back within seconds though, as Wilshere released Podolski with a perfectly-weighted pass but the German’s first-time effort was saved by Forster at his near post.
The pattern of the game continued after the break, with the Gunners on the front foot but the visitors creating the better chances - and they soon had a major opportunity to extend their lead.
Mane had been causing real problems with his pace and trickery, and he once again did well to dig out a cross to the far post where Tadic was waiting to roll it back across goal. Davis was first to the loose ball but, under pressure from Hayden, his scuffed close-range effort was saved by Ospina.
It was a let-off for the Gunners, and the Colombia international was again called into action soon afterwards to beat away a fierce Tadic free kick.
Arsenal needed to shift the momentum somehow, and the introduction of Santi Cazorla midway through the half helped in that regard. The Spaniard’s energy was infectious, and suddenly the red-and-white waves started to build, roared on by a vociferous Emirates faithful.
Bellerin had been a lively presence down the right flank all night and, on 70 minutes, he rolled in an inviting cross towards the near post but Alexis’ first-time effort was well saved by Forster. It was an encouraging sign for the Gunners, but time was running out.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chuba Akpom were both introduced in the closing stages as Wenger went for broke, but the chances just would not come. In fact, Pelle should have wrapped things up for Southampton with four minutes remaining but directed a free header over the bar from six yards.
That was it for the Gunners, and while they will be disappointed with their early exit they will have to respond quickly with the north London derby up next.
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