Thanks, Robin.

Our title hopes are dead and gone...that we knew. But, at this rate, our hope of finishing second seems to be falling by the wayside as well. Everton also won, so now they're just seven points behind us...now, I certainly don't believe that the Toffees will catch us, but can we completely discount it at this rate now? Anyway, the pertinent info:

Southampton 1-1 Arsenal

Fredrik Ljungberg (45)
Peter Crouch (67)

The Gunners: Jens Lehmann - Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Abib Toure (Emmanuel Eboue 75) - Robert Pires (Gael Clichy 45), Patrick Vieira, Mathieu Flamini, Fredrik Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie (sent off 52). Subs not used: Stuart Taylor (GK), Lauren Bisan-Etane, Jeremie Aliadiere.

The Saints: Paul Smith - Olivier Bernard, Claus Lundekvam, Andreas Jakobsson, Rory Delap - Graeme Le Saux (Paul Telfer 72), Nigel Quashie, Jamie Redknapp, David Prutton (sent off 45) - Henri Camara (Kevin Phillips 85), Peter Crouch. Subs not used: Michael Poke (GK), Callum Davenport, Danny Higginbotham.

Great. And as I write this, the red scum have just retaken the lead against Portsmouth with 10 minutes to go. Brilliant.

Anyway, this was always going to be tough for the Arsenal, given the absolutely horrendous decision by the FA to suspend both Bergkamp and Reyes for three matches due to the handbags against Sheffield United (Danny Cullip, by the way, wasn't punished at all for the stamp on the head that started the whole fracas). Also, remember that the Saints had us beat at Highbury until Robin van Persie's wonder strike rescued the point for us. In a way, I suppose it's fitting that Robin van Persie rescued a point for Southmapton in this match, as his petulance and horrifically short temper finally cost us in a key situation.

It could have been so much worse, too. The game wasn't even a minute old when Camara absolutely clowned Cygan, beating him to a long ball and then going around him as if he were a big, bald statue. To be fair, Cygan did track back and he did do just enough to deflect Camara's shot for a corner, but that's not exactly the kind of image you want to give your teammates in the first 30 seconds of a match. At any rate, it definitely set the tone for the half, as both sides played at an amazing tempo for the first 45. Southampton absolutely dominated the first five minutes...it wasn't shocking when the stat came up that they had 71% possession in that time. Things got a little better after our first real counterattack. Great passing from the defense and through the midfield got Henry into the penalty area. His lateral pass to van Persie left the young Dutchman with a glorious chance to score, but he ended up not hitting the target. A wasted chance for each side then, but perhaps we Gooners can be forgiven for thinking that van Persie really should have done better. At least on Camara's shot, he probably never expected Cygan to get back in time.

The next 20 minutes or so were quite enjoyable. Great passing from Arsenal, strong tackling from both sides...just perhaps a little bit short on the finishing stakes from both sides. It bears mentioning here that Senderos actually had a pretty good game in central defense. With the benefit of hindsight, I would rather have seen a backline of Cole-Senderos-Toure-Lauren, as the Cameroonian international's absence was never really explained. Was he hurt? Rested? Anyway, some half-chances were created on both sides, the best of which was probably van Persie's tame effort being stopped by former Brentford stopper Paul Smith (and how much I was to wish he was back in a Bees shirt, and not only because Brentford is my second team!). Also in this span, David Prutton and van Persie took reckless, stupid yellow cards. Ooohh...foreshadowing Southampton then had a good chance to score on a freekick, but Lehmann did well to save (actually, it was similar visually to the first Munich goal, and I feel lends credence to my statement that he really should have saved that one. There is also foreshadowing here as well with regards to one of the Munich goals and something later in this match).

Just as the half was dying out, Prutton stupidly flew into a tackle on Pires. I knew right then and there that he was off. But, Alan Wiley (who I feel did a tremendous job in refereeing a contentious match...he was everything that Neale Barry was not) smartly consulted with his linesman first. The linesman, who was about two feet away from the play, obviously suggested a yellow card, which Prutton was duly shown. Prutton went completely bonkers at that point, screaming at the linesman and even pushing the referee repeatedly to try and get at him! Now, can you imagine what would happen if this were an Arsenal player? It barely gets fucking mentioned in the reports today, but if it were Vieira or Henry, they'd get a 97-match ban and be fined the GDP of Mozambique. Of course, if it were Roy Keane or Cristiano Ronaldo, they'd get a stern finger-wagging and they'd be told that they were such naughty boys. Godfuckingdammit, the FA are really a bunch of cunts, aren't they? The worst part, though, was that Pires had to be stretchered off in favor of Clichy. The latter had a pretty decent match, but we could have used Pires' incisiveness and passing later on in the match. On top of that, given our already depleted squad, this is becoming an absolute nightmare.

But, I digress. As I mentioned last week, the first moments after having a player sent off are the most vulnerable ones, and the Arsenal proved my point by striking just seconds after the ejection. Ashley Cole's long shot was blocked by the Saints defense, but unfortunately for them, it came to Henry. Seemingly everyone in a red-and-white shirt tried to press Henry and force him off the ball, but he simply slid a lateral pass beyond all of them to the wide-open Ljungberg on the other side of the 6-yard box. Smith was all the way on the other side of the net as well, so Freddie was left with a simple tap-in to give us the lead. At that point, I would have bet my dodgy goalkeeping gloves that we were home and dry there. That took us to halftime, and as I write this, two awful things: 1. Robert Pires is apparently out for three matches with a severely-gashed ankle, and 2. The red scum have just put away Portsmouth. Awesome.

From the start of the second half, the men in blue (goddamn, how I hate having to type that) pressed the attack, and dominated the start of proceedings much like their opposition did in the first half. The only difference was that Smith had to do very well to palm away a close shot by Henry. Those types of saves that depend on positioning and reflexes are probably even more impressive to me than the flashy diving saves. But, that was to be the end of our dominance, though. Problem child van Persie lunged in with a reckless challenge on Le Saux, and deservedly received his second yellow. On his way to the dressing room, Wenger gave him a good piece of his mind, and rightly so. With Pires out and the FA single-handedly decimating most of our other offensive options, the last thing we needed was van Persie getting himself sent off. I suppose it's the classic case of "million dollar talent, ten-cent head."

That energized our opponents, and they started getting into the game more. Luckily for us, they couldn't really get anything going while we were at our most vulnerable, but in the end it didn't matter. Once again, set pieces proved our undoing, and it was one of the usual culprits who cost us once again. The actual defending was fine, but Lehmann (like the third goal against Munich) came charging off his line for a ball he was never going to get to. That allowed Crouch (who looks like he should be in the fucking NBA) to loop a header into the unguarded net. Well done, Jens. I've even been one of his bigger supporters, but now even I am consoling myself by imagining who we can get in the offseason (Issakson? Frey?).

After that, it was mainly Arsenal attacking, and the Saints holding on for dear life. Wenger strangely brought on Eboue for Kolo, but it didn't really make much difference. What did make a difference was the goalkeeping from Man of the Match Smith, who made some breathtaking saves...saves that won Southampton a point and cost us two. I'm a little pressed for time, so I'll leave it at that. At the death, there was much rejoicing as Ashley Cole got a header past Smith, but that was all so short-lived...it was pulled back for offside, and the replay showed that the linesman was 100% correct...Ash was offside by a good two feet or so.

Two things, and then I'll go.

1. First off, new link in the links section...Arsenal Images has some good stuff for sale, and you should definitely check it out. I'd pony up for the bar scene painting myself if I wasn't absolutely flat broke.

2. What the hell is going to be our lineup for the FA Cup replay and the match against Pompey? My best guess would be something like this:

Lehmann/Almunia - Cole, Cygan, Senderos, Toure - Clichy, Vieira, Flamini, Ljungberg - Henry, Aliadiere. Subs: Almunia/Lehmann, Eboue, Lauren, Fabregas (?), Quincy.

But, this is what I would want to see:

Lehmann/Almunia - Cole, Toure, Senderos, Lauren - Clichy, Vieira, Flamini, Ljungberg - Henry, Aliadiere. Subs: Almunia/Lehmann, Eboue, Cygan, Fabregas, Quincy.

If Fabregas is out, who will be the bench midfielder? Larsson?


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