Southampton 1 Arsenal 3: Pepe, Saka and Lacazette lead comeback win as Gunners' revival continues

IT is a good job for Mikel Arteta that he doesn’t work for Roman Abramovich because he would be out on his ear by now if the ruthless Russian was his boss.

Fortunately for Arteta, Arsenal’s absent owner is far more prepared to give him time to turn the club into a fighting force once again.


And that patience might just be rewarded as the Premier League’s youngest manager slowly starts to find his feet.

Goals from Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka and Alex Lacazette mean that the Gunners have now taken 16 points from their six Premier League games since Christmas.

Yet this hard-fought  victory was still only enough to carry them up eighth place in the table, having played more games than all the teams around them.

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So there is still a lot of work to do if Arsenal are going to avoid the nightmare scenario of missing out on European football for the first time in 26 years and all the financial consequences that brings. 

Last year they won the FA Cup against all expectations to snatch the last Europa League place right at the death. 

But that lifeline has already been taken away from them this time so now they must get into the top six or win the Europa League. 

And with leaders Manchester United next up on the fixture list they could easily find themselves back in the bottom half of the table by this time next week.

Yet Arteta can definitely take heart from the way his players took instant revenge on Southampton for Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round at St.Mary’s.

It was hard to believe that this was the same team which had surrendered their grip on the trophy so tamely just four days earlier.

And the fact that they were victorious in spite of falling behind to another early goal will give Arsenal even greater cause for optimism.

In a breathless start to this action-packed encounter, the visitors should have been ahead after one minute but instead found themselves behind after three.

The game was barely 60 seconds old when Lacazette was played in on goal by Granit Xhaka’s inch-perfect pass.

But keeper Alex McCarthy charged from his area to block and Jan Bednarek volleyed the loose ball clear before Lacazette could get another shot in.

And instead of enjoying the rare luxury of a first-half lead, Arsenal found themselves in arrears within two minutes of Lacazette’s miss.

Pepe failed to pick up Stuart Armstrong’s well-timed run into the box, leaving the Scotsman free to slam home an unstoppable shot from James Ward-Prowse’s corner.

Arsenal had recruited set-piece Andreas Georgson  to deal with exactly this kind of situation.

But whatever he might have said to Pepe about staying with his man had clearly gone in one ear and out the other.

Fortunately for Arsenal’s £72million record signing, he was able to make amends in double quick time.

Once again it was Xhaka who provided the ammunition with another defence splitting pass after Saints defender Jack Stephens had given the ball away cheaply.

And unlike Lacazette minutes earlier, Pepe was able to hold his nerve as he beat McCarthy with a low shot into the far corner.

The Ivorian enigma was only playing because captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was absent again due to family issues.

And he looked far more threatening operating on the left wing rather than constantly trying to cut inside from the other flank.

Arteta has been tearing his perfectly coiffed hair out all season trying to get a consistent tune out of Pepe.

Maybe he has stumbled upon a solution which will finally allow the one-footed winger to realise his undoubted potential.

Pepe’s switch of sides was a direct result of Arteta’s decision to use Saka as a right winger rather than a left wing-back. 

The versatile teenager has been burdened with the expectations of excitable Arsenal fans all season.


But he showed again that he is more than capable of carrying that weight when he was played through by Lacazette’s first-time pass six minutes before the break.

McCarthy spotted the danger and raced from his area to clear but was beaten to the punch by Saka, who poked the ball beyond the stranded keeper to calmly roll his shot into the unprotected goal.

And if that was an impressive display of maturity, even better was to follow when Arsenal put the game to bed in the 73rd minute.

Picked out by a raking long pass from Cedric, Saka rolled an immaculate first-time ball right across goal for the incoming Lacazette to slide in at the back post.

It was the kind of slick, quickfire strike which used to be Arsenal’s forte when Arsene Wenger was in charge.

It is still far too soon to suggest that the glory days are back.

But at least Stan Kroenke won’t be reaching for the axe any time soon.

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