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Arsenal’s top-four hopes were hit when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium. Having won the past four Barclays Premier League matches, including putting seven goals past Newcastle United on Saturday, Arsene Wenger’s side struggled for much of the match and were grateful for an own goal from Guly Do Prado to earn their point.
Arsene Wenger's side rarely threatened on the South Coast in a match that the hosts looked more likely to win. Southampton proved a much different proposition to the team that Arsenal dispatched of 6-1 in September, taking the lead after 34 minutes. It was a goal that Arsenal should have prevented but, after wasting several chances to clear, Gaston Ramirez fired the hosts in front.
Seven minutes later, Theo Walcott, making his first appearance at St Mary's since leaving in 2006, whipped in a free-kick that Do Prado could only prod into his own goal. It proved the evening's decisive moment as, try as they might, Southampton were unable to find a winner in a second half they dominated.
Both Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started at the place they once called home. Arsenal began strongly at St Mary's and Santi Cazorla saw a long-range strike deflect just wide in the fifth minute. Southampton's Artur Boruc, making his first appearance since October 28, was fortunate that his fumble at the resulting corner did not cost his side, although Saints were beginning to show signs of life.
After Maya Yoshida’s penalty claims were waved away, Steven Davis, one of the three changes made by Nigel Adkins, almost found Rickie Lambert with a through-ball, but the striker was offside. Arsenal soon returned to the attack, with Yoshida having to react smartly to block a Lukas Podolski strike. The Japan defender again had to be on his toes to stop Walcott getting a shot on goal after a break in play for Jack Wilshere to receive treatment.
Neither side were creating much in the final third and the opening goal came thanks to poor defending. Arsenal failed on a number of occasions to clear the ball and, after seeing a shot blocked, Jason Puncheon pulled the ball back for Ramirez to fire home just inside the 18 yard box in the 34th minute.
The lead lasted just seven minutes, though, as Puncheon gave away a free-kick wide on the left. Walcott swung it in and Do Prado directed past his own goalkeeper at the near post to send the 3,141 visiting fans into raptures. Arsenal thought they had a second before the break as Walcott found a way past Boruc, only for it to be chalked off for offside.
The home side responded well when the teams re-emerged for the second half, with a Lambert header across the six yard box just evading his team-mates. Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny proved his worth in the 56th minute by denying the hosts twice in quick succession. The 22-year-old palmed a threatening Do Prado effort behind and from the resulting corner he had to react quickly to stop Bacary Sagna from bundling the ball into his own net.
Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud for Podolski in a bid to change the game, although Southampton almost had a chance when Lambert slipped in the box with the goal at his mercy. Morgan Schneiderlin provided the cross and was then booked for a foul on Cazorla, before Puncheon fired into the side-netting from an acute angle and Ramirez struck over.
Walcott stung the palms of Boruc on a rare Arsenal move forward, before Ramirez saw a goal ruled out for a foul. Both managers made changes in a bid to find a winner, with Mikel Arteta coming close with a fierce 25-yard strike.
Gervinho hit the side-netting as Arsenal again came close, before another substitute, Steve de Ridder, was booked for a foul on Sagna. Szczesny parried a late Puncheon strike and Yoshida cleared a cross as the match ended level.
The draw means Arsenal are four points behind Chelsea, having played a match more, and five behind Tottenham Hotspur, with a match in hand. They could be overtaken in fifth place should Everton beat Newcastle United tomorrow. The point lifted Southampton a place above the relegation zone.
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins: "The lads yet again put a very good performance in and it just shows how far we've come. At the start of the season we got a good spanking down at their place and today, defensively we looked very solid.
"Tactically we were good and all round some really good performances. A good goal - I haven't seen the one that was disallowed, I don't know whether it was for offside or for pushing - but all round a good performance from the players yet again."
"The league table's going to fluctuate. What it does demonstrate is that we're in there, we're in there fighting and we're fighting for each other."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "Considering our performance I don’t think we deserved more today. It is two points dropped if you look at the target we set ourselves over Christmas. It is frustrating and disappointing because we did not create a lot and if you considered we scored five at Reading and seven against Newcastle.
"When you sum up the goal chances there is not a lot. We lacked purpose, penetration and speed. All qualities we have usually but lacked tonight. I'm afraid we lacked sharpness and desire. Was it deeply underestimating Southampton? I hope not."
|12 Jan 2013||v Aston Villa (A)|
|16 Jan 2013||v Chelsea (A)|
|21 Jan 2013||v Everton (H)|
|30 Jan 2013||v Man Utd (A)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Wigan (A)|
|09 Feb 2013||v Man City (H)|