Arsenal were left to settle for just a point in a 2-2 result with Southampton on Tuesday after an action-packed second half at St Mary’s Stadium.
A poor opening half from the visitors saw them go into the interval a goal down courtesy of a header from Jose Fonte. Arsene Wenger’s side produced a much better start to the second period and turned the game on its head in the space of seven minutes with goals from Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla.
To their credit, Southampton were not deflated at suddenly having their advantage taken away and responded instantly through Adam Lallana. Any realistic hope Arsenal had of going back in front was then diminished when Mathieu Flamini was shown a straight red card for a poor two-footed challenge on Morgan Schneiderlin.
It was ultimately the flatness with which Arsenal began the match that cost them, however. And it could prove to be a big blow, too, with both Manchester City and Chelsea having the chance to leapfrog them in the Premier League on Wednesday and end their long run at the summit.
Chasing an eighth-straight victory in all competitions, Arsenal were a clear second best in the opening 45 minutes. And Southampton got just reward for their strong start in the 22nd minute. A man who has been much-discussed in this transfer window, Luke Shaw, showed just why with a strong run forward and good cross to the far post. With the ball coming in, Nacho Monreal never looked comfortable dealing with the challenge of Fonte, and, sure enough, the Portuguese defender rose easily above him before squeezing a header past Wojciech Szczesny at his near post.
Monreal’s poor evening continued when he put his team in trouble with a poor clearance and it took a disappointing miss from young Southampton striker Sam Gallagher to keep Arsenal’s deficit at just the single goal. Lacking their usual invention in the final third, it was a set-piece that provided Arsenal’s best chance of the first half. Mesut Ozil’s free-kick was flicked onto Laurent Koscielny right in front of goal, but a superb reaction save from Artur Boruc kept the defender’s effort at bay.
Whatever Wenger said at the break clearly proved effective as Arsenal were much improved coming back out of the tunnel. Inside just three minutes of the restart they were level. Bacary Sagna retrieved a cross from Monreal and easily held off a weak challenge by Jay Rodriguez before drilling a low cross to the near post where Giroud produced a delightful flick into the net.
Arsenal showed no sign of relenting and four minutes later were in front. The visitors broke forward at pace, with Ozil cutting in from the right and laying a ball to the edge of the box that Giroud smartly stepped over for Cazorla, who drilled a low shot that bent away into the far corner to continue the Spaniard’s fine recent scoring record.
But Arsenal’s defense, which has previously been so solid this season, was found wanting once more, as Southampton clawed level just two minutes after falling behind. From a chipped ball forward down the left, Rodriguez outfought Sagna, just as the Frenchman had done to him minutes earlier. The forward’s pull back was perfectly placed for the in-rushing Lallana to meet with a cool side-footed finish.
Ozil did come close to a winner when his shot deflected onto the crossbar. Yet, it was Southampton who were perhaps more anxious to get the three points at the end after they had been gifted a numerical advantage courtesy of Flamini’s reckless two-footed tackle.