Giroud rescues point for Arsenal at Southampton

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his side’s slow start in games is becoming a problem after they scraped a draw against Southampton.

Substitute Olivier Giroud glanced in a superb late header to salvage a point after the Gunners had trailed since the third minute.

“In the last two weeks unfortunately we are losing points after a bad start,” said Wenger, who saw his side concede twice in the first 11 minutes of the 3-1 defeat by Manchester United eight days previously.

“I felt that the Manchester United game played a bit of a part in the head of our defenders,” he said.

“They were a bit apprehensive to start well again and that’s why it is sometimes not good to talk about the problem because you create a bigger one.”

Charlie Austin clipped home an early opener for the home side with the away defence mere onlookers.

The Southampton striker also drilled a stinging shot into Petr Cech’s gloves shortly after and then hit the post from an offside position.

A sharp save from Aaron Ramsey apart, Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster had little to do as the visitors struggled to carve out clear-cut chances before Giroud climbed above Virgil van Dijk to steer home Alexis Sanchez’s cross and make Arsenal’s possession finally pay.

Indeed Southampton were left to rue several wasted chances on the counter attack, with Ryan Bertrand missing a fine opportunity and Oriel Romeu’s long-range effort glancing off the bar in the second half.

A draw moves Arsenal level on points but behind on goal difference to fourth-placed Liverpool, who play in Sunday afternoon’s Merseyside derby. Southampton break into the top half of the table, leapfrogging Huddersfield and Everton into 10th.

Arsenal’s dominance over Manchester United in their last league game came to nothing after a slow start full of individual errors gave them too much ground to make up.

Arsene Wenger made one change from that line-up, but Per Mertesacker’s inclusion did not remove that flaw at St Mary’s.

The German centre-back gave possession away cheaply and was made to pay as Dusan Tadic’s cute reverse ball picked out Austin, who clinically found the net.

It could easily have been worse for the Gunners in the opening 10 minutes too, as the visiting defence lacked any cohesion or organisation collectively.

Individually, Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal failed to track runners or show the commitment of the Saints attackers.

Just as against United, Arsenal spent plenty of time on the ball in the second half, with 70% possession after the break – but moments of real concern for the Southampton defence were rare before Giroud’s equaliser.

The Frenchman’s celebration, pointing to the name on the back of his shirt, might have been a reminder to his manager that he is available from the start. He has scored four league goals in 13 substitute appearances during this campaign yet is still to make his first start.

Wenger said afterwards that he considered Giroud “a regular player” with “the right attitude and ability”.

Like Giroud, Austin is another striker making a case for more game time.

The 28-year-old, in only his third league start of the season, showed the clinical finishing touch that the Saints lacked in scoring only nine goals in their opening 12 games.

After clipping over Cech for the opener, he brought a good save from the Arsenal goalkeeper and hit the post from an offside position as he ran the Gunners ragged in the opening 10 minutes.

He has spent much of the season behind Shane Long and Manolo Gabbiadini in Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino’s thoughts, but eight goals in his last 11 league starts and an overall strike rate of a goal every 80 minutes in this season’s top flight are a robust case for his inclusion.

Indeed if it continues, England manager Gareth Southgate might yet take note with a view to next summer’s World Cup.

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