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Southampton 1 v 0 Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 16th April 2022 Kick-off 15:00
Southampton V Arsenal The Verdict
Sunday, 17th Apr 2022 09:31

The social media critics were out for Ralph Hasenhuttl over the past week, but those who claimed he had no plan B were proved wrong as he set out his side to make it hard for Arsenal and play to Saints strengths.

There weren't many Saints supporters in confident mood as they walked to the stadium and the travelling Arsenal fans were expecting to leave with all three points and when the Saints team was announced it didn't exactly inspire confidence with two potential players of the season on the bench in Salisu & Livramento.

It was clear that Ralph Hasenhuttl was looking to make sure that his side weren't torn apart at the back again, he played three central defenders and protected his flanks with two wingbacks, then he had his solid midfield 4 and just the loan/lone striker up front in Broja.

It was designed to get men behind the ball and then go on the counter attack and it meant that chances were always going to be hard to carve out, Arsenal had a lot of the ball but rarely got into truly clear chances, most of their efforts where shots from distance, but when they did they did get a shot on target they found Fraser Forster in the form of his life.

Sometimes goalkeepers have games where they virtually win a match single handed and this was one of them, Arsenal only managed to get 6 of their 23 efforts on target and Forster produced outstanding saves on 5 of them, I truly can't remember him having a better game for the club.

No one can deny Arsenal dominated the game, they had 76% possession, they had 23 attempts on goal to our 9, but we worked hard to make sure that unlike against Chelsea they didn't carve us open, as I said much of their efforts were from distance and well wide.

Indeed they only managed 6 on target and we ourselves managed not far from that with 3.

The truth was we had to take our chances when they came along and our goal was not straight out of the coaching manual, Romain Perraud facing his own goal and with an Arsenal clearance bouncing opted to play it safe send it back over his shoulder towards the Arsenal goal.

It was purely functional and the ball looked to be going out harmlessly for a goal kick, but Moi Elyounoussi chased it, pulled it back and there was Jan Bednarek to slam it home on the cusp of half time.

The second half was always going to be one way traffic, but as much as Arsenal poured forward, they found Saints resolute and although it can't be denied that it took three good stops from Fraser Forster, in the main most of Arsenal's efforts were from distance and wide.

As the game went on we were struggling to keep the ball and when we played it forward it came straight back, this was not Armado Broja's type of game, but it is Shane Long's, on he came with 16 minutes left and immediately showed why he was on, winning the ball with his first touch so that Arsenal could not pour straight back at us.

He then did what Shane Long does well, holds the ball up, draws fouls and makes sure that defenders don't have time to get the ball down and play.

Indeed it was very appropriate that it would be Long who would have the last touch of the game, charging down an attempted clearance by Ramsdale out for a throw in, that epitomised our spirit and indeed why Long has been vital to us in closing out games this season.

The final whistle sparked relief and celebration, ironically at the same time in Watford and North London, Brighton & Brentford were scoring late winners that meant that instead of ending the day in 10th we only moved up to 12th, but we have two winnable games no in the next week to change that position.

So a Saints victory that removes any lingering doubts about relegation and shows that we are making progress, with 6 games left we are only 4 points off the total we achieved last season, we sit in 12th which is about where we are in the Premier League pecking order, Ralph Hasenhuttl has again done a good job with limited resources, yes perhaps at times we should have done better, but at others such as the games at West Ham & Spurs we have over achieved so it evens itself out.

This was a game that was a pleasure once the final whistle had gone, for most of it, it was tense & nervous ,but it showed that Ralph has a plan B, he revamped the team and was not afraid to drop those that have been key players in order to carve out a result.

It showed that his players play for him and although there was the occasional mistake, in the main everyone on the pitch did their job, if Fraser Forster's performance was a 9.5 out of 10 and some would even say a 10/10, then no one on that pitch was less than 8, there were no room for passengers in this game, it was not one where a player could shine, it was about sheer graft and work rate.

Now we have to build on this game and get points from the next two games, there will be those that say that without Fraser Forster we would have been well beaten, but that is uncharitable, in some games you need your keeper to be outstanding and it wins you those games when otherwise they would have been lost.

So let us bask in the victory and enjoy the weekend !

Photo: Action Images

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davidargyll added 09:39 - Apr 17
When I saw the team sheet, my immediate thought was “5 at the back and only Armando up front = 0-0 or 1-0”. As RH said in his post match interview, he/they had to do something after last weekend’s fiasco or the season could end disastrously. So I was glad of the changes, and in any event, as Arsenal are a skilled team, we could not afford to be our normal gung-ho selves if we wanted to get anything out of the game. (I was though slightly puzzled that Will Smallbone wasn’t even on the bench after he played well as a sub against Chelsea; I just hope he’s not been injured again).

And what a good tactical decision it proved to be, helped immeasurably by FF in cracking form (and rightly MOM) as Arsenal, despite almost three quarters of the possession, simply couldn’t break us down. And even if Yan and Lyanco were a bit sloppy at times, nonetheless our entire defence by and large kept their composure and concentration, growing in stature as the game went on.

So not the world’s most exciting game, in fact the sort of performance you’d expect a lesser away team might play against us. But we were determined to atone for the 0-6 disaster and, to be blunt, we did a real job on Arsenal.

It does beg the question though whether we could have kept Chelsea out had we played a similar, ultra-defensive, game against them. And as a matter of conjecture, whether we should always adopt such a formation against all top teams, opting for ultimately rather boring performances; or would the crowd prefer our usual “give it a go” high pressing, much more entertaining, style, with all the risks that go with it? Answers on a post card please…

PS. Why does everyone immediately think that a great performance by any of our players eg FF immediately take this to mean he will be poached? (Older) players leave because they want to, eg Danny Ings, not because they play well. They may have ambitions but ultimately lifestyle governs their movements, not stupid agent-inspired rumours. And I reckon FF will be absolutely delighted to stay with the Saints for a while yet, because, judging by the reaction to his performance yesterday he is is really appreciated and liked here by fans and team alike, and that is not the backdrop against which transfers happen.

PPS. And as for all those “Ralph out” moaners, whom I noticed all seemed to resurface after the Chelsea game, what do you say now? And if you were an Arsenal supporter, what would you now be saying about Arteta after three losses on the trot? He’s got to go? The fact is that, because the skill set generally throughout the PL is so high, all matches have become increasingly unpredictable, eg Spurs v BHA, and it’s never going to all go your own way. So please, for the next few weeks, could you cease your unending moans, become the true fans we all know you really are and urge on our great team - and great manager - into the top 10.

halftimeorange added 09:57 - Apr 17
My issue with Ralph is that his tactics are regularly unpredictable which seem to confuse us as much as it might our opponents. The omission of Perraud in so many games is one mysterious example, at least to me. Another is not trying KWP in front of either Livramento or Perraud. As for yesterday, I agree that the set-up was appropriate for the opposition we faced. Ralph got it right (notwithstanding Fraser's outstanding performance) but, it's not unreasonable to question when he gets it wrong. I noticed Lyanco directing defensive play yesterday and he looks like a captain in the making.

SaintNick added 10:12 - Apr 17
Ralph is sometimes unpredictable and i feel that is down to the fact that he doesnt have good quality coaching staff to advise him.

I have thought that he should perhaps try Livramento in a more forward role, but on the few occasions that he has not played as a conventional full back he has looked a little lost, I think with both of them they are very good full backs, but that doesn't mean they would be good midfield players.

Their strength is being able to move forward into space and use the ball, they can do that more easily from the full back position.

SaintPaulVW added 10:12 - Apr 17
Ralph chose well yesterday and our players responded with a great performance.

Forster played out of his skin. I hope Southgate was watching.

Good to see players like Valery and Lyanco showing progress. Yes some individual mistakes but collectively these were dealt with.

Midfield also looked to have raised their game from last week. MOTD highlighted JWP charging back to block Saka.

Agree Long showed his experience to bring the win home.



WestSussexSaint added 10:13 - Apr 17
It wasn’t pretty but it was certainly effective. Arsenal play in a very similar way to Man City (understandable given Arteta’s history) and Ralph has proven that has dialled in the tactics to combat teams that use a patient build up and try to play through the lines. Difference to City is that Arsenal have inferior players which showed yesterday. That said it still needed a top class performance from big Fraser to keep them at bay.

My take always from yesterday.

1) I have no issue with employing defensive tactics on occasion as long as it is the exception rather than the rule.

2) Lyanco is a big presence on the pitch. At times this season we have been demanding leadership in our defence and this guy has bags full. I hope he gets more opportunities in the remaining games this season

3) Jan Valery is growing into an effective CB when he has someone alongside him that can talk him through it. One dodgy pass aside he did well yesterday

4j on yesterday’s performance is there anyone out there better than FF. Why spend a fortune in transfer fees when the answer is already at the club. Just hope there can be some agreement on a new contract and wages.

LordDZLucan added 10:26 - Apr 17
Salisu and Livramento players of the season? You are having a laugh.

Foreverred added 10:29 - Apr 17
Fantastic performance of grit and determination, Ok not a game of pure football, it’s was a game where the club had to show the fans a reaction from last week, the players that came in. certainly played their part in this rearguard action of a performance. I thought Ralph tactics were wrong last week, were we played too open to a team that had the talent to cut you to pieces when in possession, and so they did .this week we played in a defensive mode to contain , rather than try to take the game to the opposition, it worked because you have to adapt your game plan to match the opposition. So well done Ralph for getting it right this week, and it must be said although all the the team deserves high praise, there must be a special mention for the awesome performance from the big man Fraser Forster ,some have questioned his ability at this level this season, but this performance confirms he can still perform at the highest level

dirk_doone added 10:41 - Apr 17
One of the best performances I've ever seen from a Saints goalkeeeper.

A couple of odd facts:

1/ That was the first game v Arsenal at St Mary's with a crowd allowed in since 2018.

2/ The last time little Pompey beat Arsenal was 65 years ago.

IanSouthstander added 11:12 - Apr 17
You are right. This was one of Forsters best games for Saints. But i remember a game at the Emirates 5 or 6 years ago when FF kept another clean sheet in a 0-0.
It must be an Arsenal thing.

highfield49 added 11:26 - Apr 17
Forster undoubtedly made some excellent saves and full credit to him, but let's not forget that the best teams all have 'keepers who can bail out slack defending or quality finishing. That is the standard of goalkeeping we need every game, whether it's from Forster or a new signing, and should mean that McCarthy is no longer considered to be a viable option. The fact that we're all getting excited about a goalkeeper who can actually make saves speaks volumes about the mediocrity we've suffered for too long.
Totally agree with others about Lyanco's contribution both on and off the ball and I'm also eating a chunk of humble pie after recently suggesting that Bednarek should be allowed to leave. Perraud demonstrated that we should play a left back at left back and look to accommodate Livramento and KWP on their natural side as well. The fact that the team played with much greater composure without Salisu in defence makes me consider, even more, if his head hasn't been elsewhere recently. It makes you wonder if he hasn't found some new mates with Scouse accents in recent weeks?
The downside yesterday, if there has to be one, is that playing Broja alone up front obviously doesn't give much scope for a pressing game or outlet for midfielders trying to pick a pass, but something has to give if you tighten up defensively.
All in all a good, solid performance and I'm hoping that we can produce a repeat at Burnley midweek. Unless there are any fitness problems I'd be more than happy to see the same team given the opportunity to consolidate their achievement and pick up three more points.

Boris1977 added 11:33 - Apr 17
As others have mentioned above this was a match where the result was the most important aspect rather than the performance. The question that the more pragmatic saints fan inevitably asks is if Ralph can be flexible why doesn't he demonstrate this more often. This is not a case of knives out its a question of why do things have to get desperate (and I would argue that losing against Norwich, Watford, Newcastle and the tonking last week were ingredients of desperation) before our team selection matches the opposition. As you mention nick were a 12th placed premier league team so best not out football Chelsea who much much better resources.

Very few supporters who are critical of Ralph dislike him they just want him to succeed and get frustrated when he gets stuck in his selection ruts - which he does far too often. If he learns from this then he is certainly the best man for the job - but if we go on another run of losing games due to odd selections and an unmotivated team spirit the flaws in Ralph's character will be mentioned again. And quite correctly - football isn't like religion or politics as there are very quick and unambiguous outcomes each week and when the outcomes are negative passionate human nature will look for reasons - which ultimately lie with the manager.


JoeEgg added 12:02 - Apr 17
So pleased to be informed that after three seasons Ralph has developed a Plan B! I think 'Boris' sums up Ralph's position better than anyone has done previouly. We needed a result against Arsenal and Ralph and the lads secured that for us - but the memory of the Chelsea disaster is still too close for any real comfort. So the question is now do we Plan A or Plan B for the Burnley Game or maybe Plan C? - this is a game that will tell us much much more about the learning progress of our manager.

NYC_Saint added 14:14 - Apr 17
Only saw the second half and have no comment on the match. Only comment I have is the way Long celebrated charging down Ramsay and sending the ball out for a throw in in injury time like he’d hit his hat trick goal. Shows to me the team spirit and competitiveness is there still and, per the article above, the team is very much committed to the manager still. Great tonic to last weekend.

ItchenNorth added 14:25 - Apr 17
Never get too low when we lose, never get too high when we win.

Arsenal are no Chelsea, Liverpool or Man City. Outside of these top three clubs, everyone else is there to be got at and so it proved. Hard work yesterday, yes, but we've taken wins now against mid table teams like Spurs and now Arsenal. Never get too high or low etc.

Keep working hard like Saturday and we'll get back on another run again.

In Ralph we Trust.

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