REPORT: Arsenal 0-0 Southampton
Fraser Forster produced a jaw-dropping performance in goal to help Southampton keep a fourth clean sheet in a row and earn a 0-0 draw away to Arsenal.
The Saints keeper produced a display that will live long in the memory, ensuring his net remained impenetrable at the Emirates Stadium, as he made countless brilliant stops to deny the Gunners.
Although the wait for a league win away to the London club stands at 29 years, it means that Ronald Koeman’s men have now taken four points off the title contenders this season, following the 4-0 win at St Mary’s on Boxing Day.
It also extends Saints’ unbeaten run to four matches and ensures they remain in contact with the rest of the sides currently in contention for the European spots.
Koeman made two changes from the side that beat Manchester United last time out, dropping Matt Targett and Jordy Clasie to the bench, with Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse being restored to the starting line-up.
That prompted a formation switch, as the Saints boss changed from the 3-5-2 system he had used in recent weeks to a familiar 4-2-3-1.
It certainly didn’t result in any loss of control in the early stages, as Saints saw more of the ball than the hosts in the opening ten minutes.
They struggled to turn that possession into clear-cut chances, though, going closest with a deep, in-swinging free-kick from Ward-Prowse in the third minute that a diving Petr Čech had to turn round the post.
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger had written in his programme notes that he wanted his side to “turn up with high pace” in their game, and, inevitably, pressure began to arrive from the hosts, but Fraser Forster would prove to be more than equal to it, producing two outstanding saves to deny Mesut Özil.
The first came in the 12th minute, as the Arsenal midfielder ran in behind to latch onto Alexis Sánchez’s sumptuous lofted pass from a deep position, before bringing the ball instantly under control as it dropped from the sky and firing in a low shot that Forster repelled superbly with his left leg.
An even more incredible stop came in the 21st minute, as a Héctor Bellerín delivery from the right was flicked on by Olivier Giroud. Again, Özil stole in behind the Saints defence and stuck out a leg to divert the ball past Forster from inside the six-yard box, yet the keeper threw out a left arm to somehow divert the ball wide of the far post.
A stunned Özil’s frustration was immediately apparent, as he kicked the ball into the advertising boards surrounding the pitch.
From then on, Saints grew back into the game. First, Dušan Tadić fired a shot straight at Čech after twisting and turning on the edge of the area, before Romeu struck a dipping, 25-yard effort inches over the bar in the 32nd minute.
Saints’ best opportunity came four minutes before half time, as Romeu nodded a loose ball forward from a deep position. Virgil van Dijk, who had been up for a preceding corner, flicked it on over the Arsenal back-line, straight into the path of Sadio Mané. However, while he was clear through, he was also under severe pressure from Gabriel and dragged his left-footed shot wide of the far post.
Ward-Prowse then had to make a good block from Özil inside the six-yard area moments before the interval, as the sides went into the break level.
Less than three minutes after the restart, the breakthrough looked as though it had arrived, as Giroud curled a glorious shot towards the far top corner fro just inside the area, but Forster again stunned the home crowd, by flinging himself to his left and spectacularly palming the shot away with one hand.
Saints soon issued Arsenal with another reminder of their own threat, however, as Mané pounced on a loose pass and flew forward from the halfway line, shifting the ball to the right of Laurent Koscielny and firing in a low shot from 20 yards, only to put it straight at Čech.
Forster then denied Giroud once more, this time diving to his left to hold onto the striker’s header from a corner, before Cédric picked up the first booking of the match, for pulling back Sánchez in the 61st minute.
Arsenal sent on former Saint Theo Walcott for Joel Campbell, and he looked set to finally break the deadlock when the ball fell to him in space midway through the second half. Yet Forster twice saved two angled drives from him within the space of a few seconds.
He then brilliantly tipped a Sánchez header wide moments later, before Koscielny headed a good chance over the bar from close range after being picked out by an Özil cross.
Eventually, Arsenal did beat Forster, but even then the ball wouldn’t go in for them, as Ward-Prowse was there on the line to clear away Sánchez’s angled strike after the ball fell to him from a corner.
Just before that, Koeman had made his first change, introducing Graziano Pellè for Tadić, as the Saints striker, who has been dealing with a knee problem, made his first appearance since the win over Watford in mid-January.
A break in play followed soon after, as José Fonte had to be bandaged up after sustaining a cut to his head, while Koeman made his second change with eight minutes left, sending on Juanmi for Ward-Prowse.
There was still time for Forster to save at close range from Sánchez, before Koeman sent on Targett for Mané, as Saints held on for what could be a very valuable point.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Petr Čech; Héctor Bellerín, Gabriel, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Mathieu Flamini (Francis Coquelin 85), Aaron Ramsey; Joel Campbell (Theo Walcott 62), Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez; Olivier Giroud.
Unused substitutes: David Ospina (GK), Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Booked: Coquelin, Gabriel
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Fraser Forster; Cédric, José Fonte, Virgil van Dijk, Ryan Bertrand; Oriol Romeu, Victor Wanyama; James Ward-Prowse (Juanmi 82), Sadio Mané (Matt Targett 86), Dušan Tadić (Graziano Pellè 69); Shane Long.
Unused substitutes: Maarten Stekelenburg (GK), Maya Yoshida, Cuco Martina, Jordy Clasie.
Referee: Lee Mason