LONDON (AFP) – Santi’s Cazorla’s controversial stoppage-time penalty gave Arsenal their first home win of the season as they saw off Southampton 2-1 in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday (Sept 10).
It was a bitter pill for the visitors to swallow, with Southampton still seeking their first win under new manager Claude Puel.
An unfortunate 18th-minute own-goal by Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech was cancelled out in spectacular fashion by Laurent Koscielny 11 minutes later.
The north London side looked like having to settle for a draw until referee Bobby Madley decided Jose Fonte had pulled Olivier Giroud to the ground in the penalty area.
Saints players protested furiously but did not distract Cazorla, who tucked away the 94th-minute penalty.
The win was barely deserved. Arsenal had more possession but lacked incisiveness and south coast side Southampton will rue two excellent chances spurned by Shane Long in the second half.
Arsenal gave debuts to late transfer window signings in Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, acquired from La Liga clubs Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna respectively for a combined £52 million (S$93 million).
Francis Coquelin also returned to the team as Giroud and Alexis Sanchez were rested ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League opener away to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.
The Premier League, however, is not a competition in which big clubs can take liberties with team selection and Southampton started the sharper and took a deserved lead.
Nathan Redmond, who began on the left of a front three, cut across goal but was scythed down needlessly by Nacho Monreal. The left-back was booked, but further punishment followed as Arsenal conceded from the free-kick, albeit unluckily.
Dusan Tadic’s free-kick was brilliantly touched onto the bar by Cech, but bounced down to rebound in off his body.
The goal stirred Arsenal into upping the tempo. As Southampton were pushed back, Arsenal won set-play opportunities. These are not normally their strength but in the 25th minute Theo Walcott rose to glance a Cazorla free-kick just over. Four minutes later a corner led to Koscielny acrobatically rising to volley in with a stunning overhead kick.
Southampton complained that Koscielny’s foot was too high, and it did finish very close to Oriol Romeu’s brow, but Madley let the goal stand.
Puel, who replaced Ronaldo Koeman as Southampton manager in pre-season, played under long-serving Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger at Monaco.
The student clearly learnt well as Southampton steadied themselves to reach half-time without further alarm.While Arsenal had plenty of possession Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster was well-protected, his only moment of concern coming when Hector Bellerin flashed a shot wide.
With an hour gone Wenger summoned the cavalry. Lucas, whose debut could most charitably described as ‘quiet’, was replaced by Giroud and Sanchez came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It was, though, Southampton who should have made the breakthrough. Long linked with Tadic who drew both Arsenal centre-backs towards him before releasing the Irishman with an exquisite back-heel. As Cech came out, Long sought to chip the ball over him but put it agonisingly wide.
At the other end, Sanchez had added energy and purpose to the home attack. Dropping into space to receive a pass from Mesut Ozil he shot just over. Monreal then shot wide when well-placed as Arsenal pressed anew, Alex Iwobi, on for Walcott, being the supplier.
Again, though, it was Southampton who were the more penetrating and with six minutes left Long once more passed up a chance to put Saints ahead.
When Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg’s shot was only parried by Cech, Long was first to the rebound and seemed sure to score. But he scuffed his shot and the recovering Cech was able to clear with his feet.
In response, Arsenal broke down the left but Giroud could only steer Cazorla’s cross into the side netting. It looked as if the points would be shared until, in a furious finale, Madley made the decisive intervention.