Alexis Sanchez was the hero as he scored a late winner for Arsenal against Southampton at the Emirates Stadium in the English Premier League on Wednesday. There was barely a minute remaining when the ball arrived at the feet of Sanchez, and for once Fraser Forster was in no position to act. It was the Chilean’s 14th goal of the season and a very crucial one.
There was more at stake than just points for Arsene Wenger. His reputation and his future are on the line, no matter how much the Frenchman protests to the contrary. Anything less than a win was ammunition for those who would have him out.
The defeat to Manchester City last weekend was received as a coup by the Saints. Jack Cork was forced to leave the field due to an ankle injury. Danny Welbeck got the first chance of the game when he was set free by Santi Cazorla.
Welbeck, who is yet to prove his critics wrong in London, was failed by his left foot. The Saints had a great chance to take the lead in the 14th minute when Graziano Pele wormed his way into the Gunners defence but his final touch disappointed as his shot went over the bar. Welbeck’s header was well dealt with by Forster.
Southampton simply stuck to their task and were always alert to the counter. A sweeping move involving Victor Wanyama and Shane Long kept Arsenal on their toes early on. As the hour approached the stalemate asked something of both managers to stick or twist.
Ronald Koeman went first, replacing the fading Dusan Tadic with Sadio Mane. The presence of Olivier Giroud sprinting up and down the touchline suggested a response from Wenger was imminent. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had been effective only in bursts, was the man to make way.
Giroud went straight up the middle, leaving Welbeck on the left side. Giroud almost scored immediately, forcing a brilliant block from Forster with a hammer-like volley. Minutes later it was Welbeck stretching the Southampton keeper after Giroud had played him in with a cute flick.
Each missed opportunity etched a line of worry across the forehead of Wenger. Each repelled attack demonstrated the resilience of Southampton, marshalled brilliantly all night by Victor Wanyama. Welbeck made way with 10 minutes remaining.
Lukas Podolski came on but it was Sanchez who made the difference, poaching in front of goal with a minute of normal time remaining to probably prolong Wenger’s stay in the Gunners changing room.