EFL CUP: ARSENAL ELIMINATED AS SECOND STRING GUNNERS ARE OUTCLASSED
Arsene Wenger saw his managerial protege Claude Puel execute the perfect smash and grab raid at the Emirates Stadium as Southampton booked their place in the EFL Cup semi-finals courtesy of first half strikes from Jordy Clasie and Ryan Bertrand.
Arsenal manager Wenger, who managed Puel as a player at Monaco, persuaded his countryman to take the St Mary’s job in the summer following Ronald Koeman’s departure for Everton.
He’ll wake up on Thursday morning Probably why did he bbother. Puel, though, just one step from a Wembley final will feel much differently as he gave his mentor a night to forget in his own backyard.
Much has been made of Arsenal’s nervy Novembers, historically a difficult month for the club under Wenger.
Having won just once in the 11th month this year – with one of those victories coming against Champions League minnows Ludogorets – they’ll have to listen to it all again in 2017.
Both managers fielded second string teams; their respective Premier League commitments this weekend obviously at the forefront of their minds.
And the changes made for a disjointed start, both teams finding it tough to find their rhythm given the unfamiliar starting XI’s. That was until the 13th minute when Southampton took a shock lead from an unlikely source.
Arsenal looked to have things under control as Bertrand provided a trademark burst down the left before playing a low cross beyond Carl Jenkinson into the area.
Sofiane Boufal saw his initial shot blocked by Gabriel only for the rebound to fall invitingly to Clasie on the edge of the penalty area.
Given the Dutch midfielder hadn’t scored for the Saints since joining at the start of last season, Arsenal were well within their rights to believe the danger had been averted.
If that thought crossed their mind, they were wrong; Clasie firing a unstoppable drive past the Gunners’ third-choice keeper Emiliano Martinez.
Without big guns Mesut Ozil and Alex Sanchez, the Gunners simply weren’t clicking. Youngsters Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide provided promising cameos without a cutting edge. Something was missing, though.
Indeed, had Shane Long taken full advantage of a threatening position just inside Arsenal’s area then it would have been double trouble for Arsenal. Wenger couldn’t wait for the half-time whistle. And in the 38th minute, nor could Jenkinson.
Somehow, when a simple pass or clearance would have been suffice, Jenkinson, who hardly covered himself in glory during Southampton’s opener, conspired to lose possession deep inside his own area as he was hustled off the ball by Bertrand and Harrison Reed.
The rest was clinical from Southampton, Steven Davis finding Boufal, whose cross found Bertrand who stroked home from 18 yards.
As if the first half wasn’t bad enough for Wenger, he was forced into a substitution before the break, midfielder Mohamed Elneny limping off to be replaced by Granit Xhaka.
The half-time whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos. Wenger and his players couldn’t complain either, the fans reaction was fully-deserved.
Wenger needed answers and quickly. The half-time introduction of substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed an obvious ploy yet the Arsenal manager resisted that temptation as the players re-emerged.
Finally, the Gunners showed signs of life. Lucas Perez, making his return from an ankle injury, saw his close range effort saved by Fraser Forster after Aaron Ramsey’s clever reverse pass.
Moments later Ramsey saw a sliding effort from Jenkinson’s low cross float straight into Forster’s grateful arms. Already Arsenal had improved on their woeful first-half display. At least they were going down fighting.
Throwing caution to the wind doesn’t come without its risks, of course. And by the end Arsenal were fortunate not to lose by a bigger margin after Long twice went close, first with a looping header that had Martinez worried and then with a speculative effort from distance that the Arsenal keeper nearly spilled into his own net.
Boufal then squandered an excellent opportunity to score a third, dancing his way into the area before firing a low shot that Martinez managed to finger tip round the post.
But having saved his team from falling three behind, the Gunners keeper was nearly at fault from the resultant corner as his flapping allowed Sam McQueen a free shot at goal.
Finally, in the 62nd minute, it was time for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was welcomed onto the pitch with a huge ovation by fans.
This was Wenger’s last throw of the dice, his other options on the bench lacked the necessary experience to dig his team out of this gaping hole they’d dug themselves.
But even the introduction of the former Southampton man couldn’t save the Gunners from this disappointing loss.
Arsenal, of course, have bigger fish to fry this season. But following this loss, it’d better be worth it. Another Trophyless season back to back will not be welcome.
culled from dailymail.co.uk