If Arsenal do end up finally lifting the Premier League title at the end of this remarkable season, they may cast their minds back to this night. 3-1 down and finished became 3-3 and rejuvenated. Sure, it wasn’t the victory the oddsmakers expected against the bottom team in the Premier League. But when you go from two goals down to rescue a game like this, you count it as a point earned no matter who it’s against.
There must be something in the water with Premier League goalkeepers this week. In a carbon copy of David De Gea’s error for Sevilla’s opening goal against Manchester United, Aaron Ramsdale rolled a tame pass that was cut out by an opposing player. In this case, Carlos Alcaraz was the Saint who went marching in to steal the ball and stab it past Ramsdale. An electric opening with 30 seconds on the clock.
The champions-elect saw matters go from bad to worse at the hands of an old friend. Theo Walcott, formerly of this parish, doubled Southampton’s lead with the sort of elegant finish the Emirates used to be graced with regularly. Martin Odegaard’s bungled midfield pass was stolen by the lively Alcaraz. The goalscorer turned provider with a beautifully weighted ball which Walcott applied the finish to.
At this juncture, Oleksandr Zinchencko called a huddle of his teammates. But the ex-Manchester City man, making his 100th Premier League appearance today, saw his plan go awry when Odegaard broke up the motivational gathering to tell the team to get back to work.
To their credit, they did just that. Bukayo Saka powered his way to the by-line and whipped in a venomous cross. Gabriel Martinelli, a constant threat down the left wing, came centrally to lash it home. It was a cathartic moment for the nervy Arsenal fans and players who now had a reason to believe.
Martinelli was at the heart of the action again during a controversial collision with Jan Bednarek. The defender landed awkwardly as the Arsenal man backed into him while he jumped for a header. This resulted in Bednarek rolling down Martinelli’s body to a frightening landing. After lengthy treatment he was replaced by Duje Caleta-Car. The fact he vehemently protested his need to be substituted bodes well for his condition at least, but it’s a good thing his pleas were not listened to. In that situation, player safety is paramount.
Arsenal’s attacking play flowed better in the second half. A Saka cross towards Fabio Vieira looked like a presentable chance at first glance. Replays showed that Lyanco had nodded the ball clear, absolving Vieira for his failure to score. He would soon find himself replaced by Leandro Trossard as the Gunners added ammunition to their armoury.
Saka’s energy was a key element in Arsenal’s forward momentum. The England winger picked the ball up in wide areas and constantly tried to conjure magic. But for the quick thinking of Gavin Bazunu, once such pass would have put Gabriel Jesus clean through on goal.
Arsenal had dominated the second period, but it was Southampton who extended their lead. James Ward-Prowse’s whipped delivery found its way to Caleta-Car who powered his header home. It was a moment of inspiration from the substitute who was only on the field due to Bednarek’s unfortunate injury.
Arsenal grabbed a late lifeline through Odegaard. A wonderful one-two with Ben White saw the diminutive midfielder bend the ball past Bazunu in the 88th minute. That lifeline become a heartbeat, thumping ever louder as Saka slotted an impossible equaliser under the body of Bazunu. Eight minutes of added time allowed the Gunners to dream anew. Surely they didn’t have one last miracle left in them?
Southampton deserve their flowers here too. Surely they can extricate a significant boost from drawing with the league leaders. Saints were excellent on the night, playing their part in an exhilarating occasion. If Ruben Selles can summon a few more performances like this out of his side, who knows what might happen when it comes to survival.
But ultimately tonight was always going to be defined by its impact on the title race. For the third time in a row, the Gunners have failed to register a Premier League victory. With City lurking next, a haul of three points from a possible nine is not the form you want to be in. Arsenal have done incredibly well to be here at this stage of the season. Now they must battle to prove their claim to the crown is a credible one.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change