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Saints V Arsenal The Verdict
Friday, 26th Jun 2020 09:22

It was business as usual when Saints returned to St Mary's after a 3 month break, however that was not a good thing as they reverted back to the error strewn ways that need to be sorted out in the close season.

This was almost the complete opposite of the Norwich game but this time where we started brightly but then started to gift the opposition chances.

I feel like I have written this match report a hundred times over the past three years and that is probably because I have, the same issues keep occurring time and time again, slack defending, individual errors, lapses in concentration, all combine to ruin games where we could have and should have got something out of.

Once they settled after a couple of early wobbles, Arsenal had a game plan and it doesn't take a tactical genius to work out where our weaknesses lie, but the one that cost us dearly in the first part of the season was still very obvious in this game, all a team has to do is sit back and then break quickly, we just cannot defend against this, we seem to charge forward like schoolboys and not bother keeping shape at the back, once we got caught out when the Arsenal keeper just drop kicked the ball forward and found his man with Jack Stephens completely out of position and left for dead.

Arsenal's first goal though had only one culprit, Alex McCarthy was under no pressure whatsoever when the ball was passed back to him, he had several options including a short pass to Bertrand or just hoofing it forward or into the stands, his weak attempted pass forward was atrocious and left Nketiah with a simple run after the ball and tap into the empty net.

A change at half time with Walker Peters coming on for Valery and Long for Obafemi perked Saints up and Long saw a shot brilliantly saved, but once again just as we should have been revving up for the final onslaught in search of an equaliser we shot ourself in the foot again.

Hojbjerg's pass back was lax but Stephens should have done better instead of letting it run and subsequently bringing down Aubameyang and earning a red card.

The resultant free kick was blocked by the wall but fired straight back in straight at McCarthy who just parried it leaving Willock with a simple finish from the rebound.

All in all as I keep saying going forward we are a good side, but we keep making the same mistakes game after game and I'm sorry to say it is the same issues.

Goalkeeper - An error on both goals for McCarthy, a Premier League keeper should really have dealt with both goals, the second saw him just block it, yes the shot was hard, but he could have held it or at least should have got the ball out of the danger area, not just parried it two yards forward.

I don't know if Gunn is the answer or not, but McCarthy isn't, in the penultimate game before the break at West Ham McCarthy failed to catch a simple cross that cost us a goal, he has never been a true number 1 choice at this level in his career and that has shown.

Right Back - Valery seems to be half the player he was a year ago, something has gone wrong there, Walker-Peters looked competent and could keep the ball and pass it, but he seemed reluctant to take on players and get in crosses, he will probably get a run in the side now and has a chance to get his confidence and show us if he can beat his man, he could be an option to buy, but I would not rate him at more than £5 million given his displays so far and his lack of experience.

Central Defence- This has now been an issue for 3 1/2 years and something needs to change, Jan Bednarek is a good blocking player, against Arsenal he blocked a lot of crosses and shots, he could be a good player, but he needs a decent central defender next to him.

That man is not Jack Stephens, I know some will say I have something against him, but why can I keep criticising him ? simple answer because we keep on having games like this where the opposition get gifted chance after chance through slack marking, poor positional play, poor oranisation and a failure to do the basics.

Stephens has some redeeming points, he has an ability to carry the ball forward and hit a forward ball, but we don't pay him to do that, we pay him to defend and he is not consistent enough or good enough as was shown several times when he was caught out of position.

Perhaps he is would be better deployed as a holding midfield player, it pains me to have to be so scathing, he is a loyal club servant, but that is not enough, I have to base it purely on performance , my simple litmus test is this, would he get a game in central defence in any other Premier League side ? I think we all know the answer and tells us what should be done.

Attack - Danny Ings is beyond reproach and we have to accept that Shane Long is in the twilight of his career, he can still do a job, but it is going to be more as an impact player going forward.

Michael Obafemi has pace, but is this enough, he seems to have little idea where to run, how to put himself into a position to get a chance on goal or how to make runs off the ball to create space and chances for others.

He is a reactive players, occasionally he finds himself with the ball at his feet and e can take on players and have a shot, but too often you look at him standing around not knowing what to do, at one stage Danny Ings clearly berated him for offering no support when he had a run at the Arsenal defence, perhaps he can find the nous needed to play at this level or perhaps he will be one of those players that we see from time to time who mostly do nothing of real note but get the occasional spectacular goal that falsely eleveates their reputation at least for a while.

Che Adams- I think Adams has it in him to play at this level, he has the "nous" what he doesn't have is a goal to his name, performance wise Adams has contributed when he hasn't scored, when he played up front at Cheslea with Obafemi, Adams had a great game, but Obafemi took the plaudits for a superbly taken goal, before that shot be had barely touched the ball.

I think Adams has to be given a run in the side between now and the end of the season and be judged on contribution not goal scoring..

I'm sorry to have to be writing this, as I say it is something that you will have read on this site time and time again and there is one reason for that and that is the same things keep happening on the pitch, look back at the five games before the break, we won 1 and lost 4, those lost games were thrown away through error, granted Liverpool were a different class, but Burnely we gave them a goal after 2 minutes, West Ham was error strewn including McCarthy's one on the stroke of half time to gift them the lead, Newcastle home saw Yan Valery's error late on after a decent fighting spirit down to 10 men.

The same things happen week after week usually with the same culprits, they are never going to mend their ways now, changes have to be made.

I'm sure some will disagree, but for me the proof of the pudding is in the eating and yet again the evidence is there for all to see.

It is so frustrating to have to write this it must be worse for Ralph Hasenhuttl to see good work continually ruined.

Photo: Action Images

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beynali73 added 09:40 - Jun 26
Frustrating and dispiriting - I don't think there can be too many complaints about your round up Nick. As you mention it could be a cop and paste from multiple games over the past few years.

IanRC added 09:42 - Jun 26
Think the comments on the second is a bit harsh on Stephens, it was a dreadful ball from Hojbjerg and his long passes had been very good up until the sending off. Overall though a very poor performance and presumable the sending off means no Stephens at Watford, unfortunately we all know what that means. I agree that we should really give Adams a run in the team. Shame we didn’t take the opportunity to go level with Arsenal.

sandywelsh added 09:51 - Jun 26
The best thing Jack Stephens done all night was getting sent off. He is to slow and keeps getting caught out of position. I hope Obafemi and Valery dont start another game this season, they are just not good enough for the premier league. Che Adams must wonder what he has done wrong not to be starting ahead of Obafemi. Kyle Walker-Peters looked far better than Valery when he came on and should be starting more games now. After last night game maybe its time to start Angus Gunn again.

Nomaesaints added 09:53 - Jun 26
As I said in my previous post Valery and Obafami need to be sent out on loan as they are not Premier players at the moment.
What position was Valery supposed to be playing? Half of the time it looked like he was playing as a right winger?
Obafami was poor overall and did very little right for the time he was on.
RH seems to make strange decisions as both players mentioned above were very poor in the last game even though we won.
Last night we were into the old habit of tiipy taping the ball along the back line instead of getting the ball up to the front. The more times you get the ball into the penalty area (the opponents!) the more chance you get to score. McCarthy was poor also but the first error he made has been coming for a while as he was nearly caught a few times in earlier games.

wibbersda added 10:18 - Jun 26
How about getting Forester back? Also with the absence of the crowd who cannot be blamed we now see that its the Home tactics of backwards and side passing that is the root of the problem.

NigD added 10:23 - Jun 26
Good and fair report.
Dangerously in need of a quality centre back to work alongside Bed. Really believe that Jack Stephens would make an improvement on Hojberg in the holding role in midfield.
Another right back also needed.
We have some good talent up front. Think and hope that Djenepo will be a big player for us next season. As we cannot spend half a billion on a title chasing squad, we should be happy that we should be able to compete in every game and not feel that we are a bottom half team. Yesterday was a repeat of everything our home form has been. Which will continue to happen with a team definitely set up and capable of playing perfectly at away grounds. Arsenal did to us, what we have done away this season. Crazy season really.

the_saint added 10:23 - Jun 26
100% agree with you nick spot on.
But I think you will see hasenhuttl persist with these players and bring more in from the academy.
If you think we will spend money in the transfer window think again we haven't any

highfield49 added 10:41 - Jun 26
I think you have covered all of the supporters frustrations Nick. As for the future, to take the pressure off we pretty much have to win at Watford and I'm not convinced that last evening's performance showed that we have the grit required for the job. Either Gunn or Lewis has to be in goal because the likes of Deeney will give McCarthy a lot of verbal grief to get into his head. I don't see any future for Valery at this level and Adams has to be given a chance to play. Watford will know little about Adams but will know lots about Obafemi and Long so we should take advantage tactically. Three points on Sunday please to put the Arsenal game into the waste bin.

halftimeorange added 10:51 - Jun 26
On this performance Saints ain't safe yet. I can forgive McCarthy one error as it happens to most keepers but, to try the same clearance moments later was simply amateur. Lots of criticism but, we were the better team for a long period until the Stephens calamity (I thought he touched the ball and was unlucky) however, no-one has mentioned Redmond. We all know he has the speed and talent, but every other attack stops when he receives the ball as he won't take on his man, often cuts inside and loses possession. As I've said before, true class is spread very thinly across our squad and we'd better hope that three other teams remain below us until the end of the season.

A1079 added 11:30 - Jun 26
A good report and summary Nick and reflects the endless frustrations that we and surely the manager must feel - though if we haven't got the players that can do the "pretty" stuff for heavens sake just drill it into them to clear their lines.

I did wonder what it is you could have said today that have not been said a hundred times already because the same mistakes, issues, errors, whatever you call them just keep being repeated. Unless it is seriously addressed this summer then we will face the same next season.

I don't think we are safe yet either. If we lose to Watford and other teams down there pick up points then we will be uncomfortably close again.

Colburn added 11:46 - Jun 26
Again, I find this a bit of a knee jerk reaction. After 3 months of no football, are you really expecting immediate consistency? I agree that our home form is like groundhog day but you have again focused on a couple of players when to be fair the whole team played badly. Fully expected for you to blame Stephens for Hojbjergs awful pass as you never praise him when he plays well. What did we produce going forward? The real issue was a lack of decent threat on the Arsenal goal. KWP looked more alert and productive than Valery, that was one positive from the game. I disagree with comments about Obafemi. Involved in 2 of the goals at Norwich and put more effort into pressing Arsenal in first half than any other player. We just don't have a pattern of play at home and it just pressures the defence. Fonte was awful at times first couple of seasons and then became a rock. Jan has looked iffy at times this season but he was probably our best player yesterday. What are you expecting when we provide nothing going forward other than drawing a blank..? I've said it before many times, you defend as a whole team and need goals to take pressure off the back 4. We did neither effectively yesterday.

schatfield added 12:07 - Jun 26
lazy reporting on Jack Stephens again, he played pretty well, and the sending off was more a result of the poor PEH. Once again, its not the central defenders, its those in front of them. In this game, poor goalkeeping didnt help.
But let's not be too down - Shane Long was superb when he came on and could easily have bought us level.

SaintPaulVW added 12:21 - Jun 26
It was an awful first goal and then Stephens was left with a nightmare by PEH to try to get a challenge in. Not too sure Stephens can really be blamed for the second....

Why are we so slow in moving the ball forward when we have such fast players. Arsenal just fell back into 2 lines in defence, crowded the box and we ended up having to pepper half chances everywhere.

Reality check really. Struggling to see us get out of the bottom half now. Particularly with either JV or KD as our replacement CB's.

wessexman added 12:32 - Jun 26
The defensive frailties have been criminally ignored for over 3 seasons. Somehow, good fortune and other teams having an even bigger death wish than us, have kept us afloat. This luck, and RH, cannot keep baking us out. This coming summer is now huge and will define our fortunes for years to come.

NYC_Saint added 12:47 - Jun 26
I broadly agree with your observations. PEH is going through the motions right now and I would drop him to see who can fill his shoes (I am in the camp that said shoes aren’t that big in the first place). Most puzzling to me though is why when two up against a Norwich side that looked like they couldn’t wait for the final whistle Che Adams wasn’t given a 30 minute run out to get that much needed first goal. RH blocked his sale in January so clearly likes him but as a former striker himself surely he knows more than anyone what Adams needs? I though obamfemi was poor and too often got in Ings way or didn’t draw defenders always from him, Long did much better and Adams also has much better positional awareness.

I’m not sure what happened to Vallery but he has nothing going forward refusing to take on his man or even run into space and couldn’t even trap the ball or bother chasing to keep it in play at one point. This led to KWP looking like Roberto Carlos in comparison so I take his performance with a pinch of salt but if he gets a run and does well I’d like to see him part of a swap for PEH as our recent defensive buys have been much lacking.

Finally, having played the unusual combination of both midfield and goalkeeper until I moved abroad 20 years ago I do have sympathy for McCarthy. The first goal was totally on him making a poor decision. The second was a a second attempt through a crowd of players which are very difficult to deal with no matter how good you are - you can’t commit until very late as any flick or deflection and you look stupid. He pushed it to the side which he should have done and there wasn’t a single defender that went toward the goal to block the shot. Goalkeepers union rant over but from my perspective he’s the best keeper we’ve got and it would be a lot of money to upgrade him - let’s hope Gunn develops well and puts him under pressure and he gets a decent center half in front of him too next year.

SonicBoom added 13:24 - Jun 26
Spot on Nick. I'd add that it's Ralph's job (very highly paid job) to improve Stephens, and Valery and Obafemi etc so I'm not sure why he gets a free pass.

smartjoe added 13:31 - Jun 26
It seems we are not to be allowed to give our player ratings for the Arsenal game. That will be a pity as I was quite looking forward to scattering a few 2 or 3 scores around. I think such scores would not be amiss for Valery, PEH and McC. Stevens
is also a likely candidate but maybe I could be super generous and award him a 4.
Please Nick do not deny the fans the opportunity to assess our player's performance
after each game, whether the game is watched at the ground or on TV.

ExiledSupporter added 13:38 - Jun 26
Very largely agree with you Nick. So won't expand on your comments any further but there are a couple of other parts of the problem that need some more focus.

Firstly we were hopeless at moving the ball forward with any speed or often accuracy and against a five man defence that is never going to work. Our midfield is not very creative; I value Armstrong and particularly his growing goal potential/contribution, but after that I don't really feel that we possess anyone who can play with his head up and pass the ball dangerously - this has been a problem for years. We seem to recruit players in these positions who have little vision but are industrious or somewhat eccentric and superficially talented ball jugglers who cannot sustain 90 mins of effort and drift in and out of matches to little effect.
I value Redmond but his consistency leaves much to be desired; if it wasn't for his free kicks I can't really see JWP as a midfield maestro while PEH doesn't look all that committed and in any case has rather few memorable performances. None of these players score enough goals, none of them are consistently impressive, Djenepo is exciting but seems to be highly erratic and Boufal has masses of talent, but provides little evidence of knowing when to pass or when to retain the ball (another who drifts in and out of the game)
In short we rarely get the ball forward swiftly, threateningly or effectively.
The other thing is that while Ings has carried us through matches so often, hardly anyone else on the field seems able to raise themselves from relative torpor!
Neither of the current right back options seem to meet the need of the moment; Bertram is a good player but seems increasingly demotivated and disenchanted etc etc
Adams must start all this season's remaining matches, if not we will never be ableto judge his future worth to us and Shane should always be a 60mins option
So Nic sorry, I now realise regrettably that the one thing in your latest article I do disagree with is the assertion that we are a good team but for a few hopeless defenders, the problem is much wider ranging than that...

davidargyll added 13:53 - Jun 26
This was really a tale of two keepers, one excellent, one, er, rather less so...
I’ve always found McCarthy’s habit of taking an incoming ball on the side of his boot and pushing to his right to kick it unnerving and sure enough he got undone in spades last night.
Let’s be honest that wasn’t even a schoolboy howler it was kindergarten stuff, which I don’t recall seeing in the PL for years, if ever. And for that he should be stood down. And the goal keeping coach should be given one helluva bollocking too!
The trouble with that howler is that the rest of the team now really won’t trust him, exactly the same as that other useless individual, Valery, to whom, none and I mean none, of the other boys pass the ball to unless absolutely forced. Gunn may be ordinary but I don’t think he would have been as stupid as that. And there’s always Fraser...
Of the rest, Stephens looked to me as he was just a bit worn down by the heat if nothing else and made a Very costly mistimed lunge.
KWP was good the couple of times he went forward but too often passed sideways or backwards, a sure sign of lacking in confidence.
Rest of the team huffed and puffed but I’m afraid anything other than at least a one-nil loss would have been a travesty.
So I think we have to be prepared for a lot of limping towards the finishing line - at least the rest of the bottom half bar Brighton have not exactly come leaping out of the traps.

Farlow added 14:09 - Jun 26
Obviously Alex Macarthy was at fault with both goals,but PEH was also at fault with both.Its so naieve to think that a player who wishes to leave is going to give 100%,surely its a good time to try the youngsters..

Farlow added 14:21 - Jun 26
I totally agree with Nick,Che needs to be given a run in the team to develope an understanding with Danny Ings and hopefully ease his burden.

AmericanSaint added 15:12 - Jun 26
Wow - you really dislike Stephens. The second goal is ALL PEH fault. Nobody else to blame PERIOD. That pass was so horrendous that he should have been taken off the field for it. How do you expect Stephens to catch up to a ball 3 yards to the left of and away from him and Aube bearing down on him with that kind of speed. You really need to learn to evaluate it correctly. Please stop blaming a CB for the faults of the mid-fielders. Because of PEH, we now dont have our best CB pairing and have to have Vestagaard come in. Also, how many times does JWP need to back pass. I was so infuriating when he slowed an attack move down to back pass instead of sending a through ball. UGHJ!! Next, Valery has to sit and let KWP get a go as he should some good stuff during his 45 minutes. I like Che but not sure he is right for RH system of high press as he doesnt track back well at all. Regarding McCarthy, the first goal is all his to won, but the second is more difficult as that was a stinger of a shot. It also was at his feet which is one of the hardest spots for a keeper to react to as you have to decide if you use your feet or try and get down to use your hands. It was 50-50 at best for Alex to do something with and unfortunately it didnt work out. In all reality, we should have been 1 down in the 10m or so when Aube blasted past Stephens and shot and hit the cross bar. In the slow-mo replay, you see Alex got a thumb on the shot which sent it up to hit the post. I am not sure who should be playing in goal for us, but we have three decent keepers, os we should be able to make one better than average. Next, I think the Watford game will really show us where we stand as far as looking up or over our shoulders. Even if we draw, we will fine then in my opinion as all the other teams below us seem to be caving to the pressure. Finally, Nick I do appreciate your takes on the games and you have some very valid points, but sometimes you focus solely on the defence and do not take in to account where the problems really begin.

HythePeer added 16:08 - Jun 26
There's a manager picking these players instructing them how to play and where to go.

ItchenNorth added 16:33 - Jun 26
It's time to see Smallbone, Adams and Peters given a run in the side for want away PEH, Obafemi and Valery. We have no options at centre back unfortunately, this is an area we know needs addressing in the transfer window. I'd like to see Gunn back as well. Not just because of McCarthy error last night; just I think he's the better keeper. We have to remember that Gunn was in goal at the start of the season and was the casualty of a failing system. We changed the system and result improved, but we've not see Gunn in goal since the change to a back 4.

erick added 19:28 - Jun 26
People tend to forget easily, lets look at the statistics Yan Valery is the most prone defender in the Premeir league to do mistakes that lead to a goal, followed by Jan Bednarek in southampton colours. The hate towards Stephens isn't totally justified. Next season we need a new RB, CB to partner Stephens, LB and a DCM to sought out a few of our issues

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