5 questions from Arsenal’s defeat at Southampton

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Will Arsenal win three consecutive league games this season?

We haven’t managed it yet. Arsene Wenger is quick to point out that consistency will be the key to making the top four, but it’s precisely that which evades us at present.

Every time we seem to be building some momentum, that nefarious handbrake slams down to foil us once again.

Nevertheless, six points from nine is more than I expected from our festive fixture list. Watching our defending at St. Mary’s, the victory at Upton Park began to look ever more miraculous.

I still think we’ll make the top four, but I think that case more about an absence of quality elsewhere in this league than any positive attributes of our own.

Is Francis Coquelin the answer to our defensive midfield problem?

Not for me. Coquelin’s tenacious displays don’t make me think we ought to anoint him as the long-awaited “DM” — rather, they convince me of how much better we’d be with a top class player performing in that role. However, Coquelin does look as if he will give Mathieu Flamini a run for his money until a superior player arrives.

At present, Coquelin’s certainly a better option in that role than Calum Chambers. According to Squawka, Chambers didn’t make a single tackle during his return to his former club.

That stat doesn’t necessarily mean quite as much as you might imagine — interceptions are just as important, and tackles can be a desperate last resort prompted by poor positioning. However, it was clear watching the game that the Englishman is a long way from ready to play regularly in central midfield.

Is Wojciech Szczesny good enough to be our number one?

I think so. He has the talent. Is it being properly harnessed? That’s another question (but, crucially, not one in bold. Got to stick to the five. #SEO)

Look at where David de Gea was two years ago and where he is now. That’s surely down to coaching. Has Szczesny made the same strides forward? Probably not. He relies on his instincts and his preternatural self-confidence. Technically and tactically there are still flaws in his game.

The identical errors made by Almunia, Fabianski and Szczesny can’t be mere coincidence. The problem must lie on the training ground.

What’s up with Laurent Koscielny?

Although Szczesny was painted as the villain of the piece, Koscielny also endured something of a personal nightmare against Southampton. Aside from misjudging the run of Saido Mane on the opener, he also played a weak back-pass that ought to have resulted in a third for the Saints.

You know, it’s almost as if he’s being forced to play through a debilitating chronic injury. Tendinitis doesn’t just disappear. His is a condition that requires careful management. It’s been said many times, but Wenger has to buy a central defender with the ability to cover a prolonged absence for Koscielny. Relying on him is a risk we can not afford.

On the subject of the back four, much will understandably be made of how shoddy we looked with our first choice defensive unit in place. However, in their defence it was the first time those five players have played together this season. All change — even position change — can be disruptive. It will take time for that unit to click.

What sort of team will we see in the FA Cup?

Ideally, I think Arsene Wenger would like to field a rotated side after a demanding Christmas period. However, a glance at our subs bench at Southampton suggests he has very few options at his disposal. Theo Walcott should start his first game in a year, while David Ospina is guaranteed a game in goal. Other than that I expect it to be fairly similar team.

One man who may get a run-out, most likely from the bench, is Chuba Akpom. It seems clear Wenger is launching a charm offensive to convince the young striker to extend his deal beyond the summer. The development of Joel Campbell does not seem to be quite such a priority for our manager.

Arsenal 1-0 Southampton – Olivier Giroud: The man for some occasions

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Alexis Sanchez might have been the match-winner, but Arsenal undoubtedly owe a debt of gratitude to Olivier Giroud for this vital win over Southampton.

Giroud’s contribution has sparked the butterfly effect of opinion, evolving swiftly from the initial and innocent musing as to why he didn’t start in to the bellowing demand that he play every game from now until May.

It’s not as simple as that. This performance doesn’t prove that Giroud is the answer to our striking situation, just as Danny Welbeck’s match-winning display at West Brom didn’t see him crowned as our de facto centre-forward.

As the pattern of this game developed, it became clear we needed Giroud. That’s something difficult to anticipate: had Arsenal scored early on, we might have shifted in to a counter-attacking strategy in which the pace of Welbeck, Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been more useful.

As it was, we needed someone who could help us lay siege to the Southampton goal and provide a focal point for our crossing game. Giroud did that and more. Although Alexis Sanchez will rightfully grab headlines for another priceless goal, the game really swung on Giroud’s arrival and the exit through injury of Toby Alderweireld.

Giroud is unique among Arsenal’s forwards. His aerial presence and hold-up play are superb, but there’s one quality that really makes him stand out: his vision. His physique gives him the platform to receive the ball with his back to goal, but it’s his brain that allows him to be so effective with it. The deft flicks and neat touches don’t only show a player of considerable technique — they show a player with of creativity and imagination. Southampton couldn’t handle him.

However, it won’t always be thus. There will be times when Giroud starts and has to be withdrawn for the speed and movement of Danny Welbeck. Presumably we’ll then go through an inverted version of the same discourse, with people anointing Welbeck as the solution and casting Giroud aside.

Instead, Arsenal fans should simply be grateful for the variety they now have in their attack. Neither Giroud nor Welbeck are of real world class. However, between them they have the requisite attributes to beat most defences we’ll encounter. Crucially, they’re supplemented by Alexis Sanchez: a Swiss army-knife of a player who seems able to adapt to any opposition.

Based on the evidence of the last two seasons, we already know that Giroud is not the man for every occasion. However, as he proved this evening, he is undoubtedly the man for some.

Audioblog: Immediate reaction to the Southampton defeat – Podolski, Rosicky & more

So there we have it: Arsenal are out of the League Cup.

There are only four competitions we can win this season. That’s one down.

Listen to the audioboom above for my immediate thoughts as I walked away from the ground. I’ll have something more considered for you tomorrow.