Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
- Goals: Eddie Nketiah (£4.4m), Joe Willock (£4.7m)
- Assists: Alexandre Lacazette (£9.3m)
- Bonus: Kieran Tierney (£5.3m) x3, Rob Holding (£4.4m) x2, Emiliano Martinez (£4.2m) x1
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m) blanked again on Thursday as Arsenal bounced back to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over mid-table Southampton.
Never before had the Gabon international gone four Premier League matches without scoring but he set an unwanted record at St Mary’s, despite his side tasting success on the road for the first time since December 2019.
Luck wasn’t on his side on the south coast.
First denied a ninth-minute goal thanks to a combination of an Alex McCarthy (£4.5m) feather-touch and the underside of the crossbar, Aubameyang then saw Eddie Nketiah (£4.4m) shank an effort wide on the stroke of half-time when a square ball would have left the premium FPL forward with a tap-in.
The roles were reversed after the interval, with Aubameyang’s attempted pass to the unmarked Nketiah deflecting off Jan Bednarek (£4.4m) and trickling agonisingly wide of McCarthy’s right-hand post.
The Gabonese striker’s jinxed evening culminated in the 85th minute when he was hacked down by Jack Stephens (£4.4m) as he raced through on McCarthy’s goal; the Southampton stopper seeing red and Arsenal, courtesy of substitute Joe Willock (£4.7m), doubling their lead from the resulting free-kick.
Unfortunate or not, there’ll be valid questions about his current worth as a premium asset – especially after a Gameweek in which many of the other heavy hitters returned points for their owners.
First, the good.
It should be said that Aubameyang still sits joint-second in the race for the Golden Boot, on 17 goals.
He is also relatively ‘nailed’ (he hasn’t been substituted or benched once under Mikel Arteta) and, contrary to popular belief, his role on the left flank doesn’t really affect his output much.
The Gunners arguably have the stand-out fixture of Gameweek 32+, as well, with bottom-of-the-table Norwich City the visitors to the Emirates next Wednesday.
That match against the Canaries could well be his swansong for the patient Fantasy managers who still own him, however.
After the clash with Daniel Farke’s Championship-bound troops comes four trickier-looking fixtures against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
On top of that, for £6.6m less, Fantasy managers can pick up another Arsenal forward: Nketiah.
Granted, the budget Fantasy asset isn’t perhaps as secure a starter as Aubameyang.
We have already seen Nketiah drop to the bench once in Gameweek 30+, with Alexandre Lacazette (£9.3m) taking his place, and we can expect to see some job-sharing going on between those two players between now and the end of 2019/20.
But the youngster has now started five of Arsenal’s last six league matches up front and marked his latest run-out with the Gunners’ deadlock-breaking goal at Southampton, intercepting a suicidal pass out from McCarthy and rolling the ball into the empty net.
Hailing Nketiah after the match, Arteta said:
Eddie, since I joined, the maturity and the personality that he plays every game with is incredible.
I demand a lot of our forward players to put the opponent under pressure and they’ve done it. A lot of the goals we score are because of the errors that we force on the opponent. In that heat, to keep chasing players and putting them under pressure, sometimes it’s not a really nice thing to do.
But obviously, when you get a goal from the mistakes they’ve made – which could have caused a few more goals – it’s really important. It generates belief in what they do and it pays the price for the effort.
I am happy with Eddie, the way he’s played again today, but I’m happy in general with the team.
Another youngster and budget FPL asset, Bukayo Saka (£4.7m), also continues to impress under Arteta.
The teenager was here operating as a sort of left-sided-midfielder-turned-wing-back in his manager’s fluid 4-3-3/3-4-3 and his versatility has come in handy with the injuries piling up since the restart.
Indeed, Saka is one of just four Arsenal players who has started all three league games since the Premier League resumed in mid-June.
Above: Arsenal players sorted by starts in Gameweeks 30+ to 31+
Not offering much goal threat of his own, Saka nevertheless is capable of chipping in with an assist (he has four this calendar year alone) and was the only Arsenal asset to create more than one chance on Thursday.
His manager seems to trust him, too, with Arteta saying afterwards:
It’s in his hands. He has a manager that has total belief in him, he has a club that really supports him and he has team-mates who adore him for who he is.
He’s such a nice boy, he’s very intelligent and he’s so willing to learn. He’s eager to be the best, he tries to be the best every day, and you can put him in different positions and he picks it up really quickly.
Every decision he makes, he takes risks. I think he could have produced three goals today. The maturity he shows on the pitch is really good.
While Lacazette was benched again and Nicolas Pepe (£9.3m) offered little, Arsenal’s defence at least showed signs of improvement.
It was perhaps no surprise that they looked more solid with Granit Xhaka (£5.1m) back in the side, with the Swiss defensive midfielder – public enemy number one towards the end of the Unai Emery reign – becoming an influential figure in the Arteta era.
All five of Arsenal’s clean sheets under their current boss have arrived with Xhaka in the starting XI.
Budget goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (£4.2m) was solid enough filling in for the injured Bernd Leno (£4.9m), meanwhile, and the cut-price Rob Holding (£4.4m) was arguably the man of the match at the back, looking considerably more dependable than the suspended David Luiz (£5.7m).
Another member of Thursday’s backline, Kieran Tierney (£5.3m), limped off injured in the second half – but Arteta said the Scotland international was merely suffering from cramp when he was interviewed later:
Kieran was cramping. He hasn’t played two games together in the last seven or eight months and he was suffering. The weather is different to Scotland and he needs to adapt to it.
The Saints were brought back down with a bump after the Gameweek 30+ win over Norwich City and it has to be stressed how favourable the circumstances were in that victory last Friday, with Daniel Farke deploying an experimental 4-4-2 to disastrous effect.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side were second-best before the interval against Arsenal but improved after half-time, with substitute Shane Long (£4.7m) testing Martinez and Nathan Redmond (£6.2m) firing into the side-netting from decent positions.
Given Michael Obafemi‘s (£4.9m) so-so performances in his compatriot’s absence, the fit-again Long will expect to regain his place for Sunday’s trip to Watford.
The Saints will be without the suspended Stephens for that encounter, however, with the lumbering Jannik Vestergaard (£4.5m) potentially taking his place.
There is further encouragement for owners of Watford’s attacking assets, with question-marks over Southampton’s problem right-back position and their goalkeeper.
McCarthy’s distribution has always been a concern and he had already had one near-miss when he gifted Nketiah the opener, with Arsenal out-Southamptoning Southampton with their aggressive press.
Speaking of McCarthy after the match, Hasenhuttl said:
We know we play more in possession now and making the goalkeeper more of a player means he has the ball more often.
There are still some things he has to improve – his decision making: should I play the ball short or should I play the ball long.
He has stuff to work on.
Danny Ings (£7.2m) couldn’t add to his haul against Norwich here, meanwhile, and has now racked up 177 minutes of pitch-time over the last week; it’ll be interesting to see if Hasenhuttl spares him at Vicarage Road this weekend given how carefully he has handled his star striker in previous periods of fixture congestion.
Southampton XI (4-2-2-2): McCarthy; Valery (Walker-Peters 46′), Stephens, Bednarek, Bertrand; Højbjerg (Vestergaard 90′), Ward-Prowse; Armstrong, Redmond; Obafemi (Long 46′), Ings (Romeu 90′).
Arsenal XI (4-3-3): Martinez; Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Tierney (Kolasinac 70′); Xhaka, Ceballos (Maitland-Niles 80′), Saka; Pepe (Willock 64′), Nketiah (Lacazette 79′), Aubameyang.