FA CUP: SOUTHAMPTON 0 VS ARSENAL 5: GUNNERS ENACT REVENGE FOR LAST SEASON’S DISGRACE
At the end of a whirlwind week for Southampton they were met by a Welbeck-Walcott tornado as Arsenal blew them out of the Cup.
Danny Welbeck scored two and set up another in his first start in 265 days, while Theo Walcott netted a hat-trick against his former club.
Welbeck had only been back for three months following a 10-month layoff with a serious injury to his left knee when he suffered one as bad to his right against Manchester City last May, and he has only managed a smattering of substitute appearances this month since returning to fitness.
STARTING LINEUPS & RATINGS
Southampton (4-3-3): Lewis 4; Martina 4, Gardos 4, Stephens 4, McQueen 4; Reed 4, Clasie 4, Hojbjerg 4; Sims 4, Long 5 (Redmond 64 6), Isgrove 5 (Tadic 64 6).
Unused subs: Yoshida, Davis, Romeu, Bertrand, Taylor.
Manager: Claude Puel 4
Arsenal(4-3-3): Ospina 6; Bellerin 6.5, Mustafi 6.5, Holding 6, Gibbs 6; Chamberlain 7.5, Maitland-Niles 7; Walcott 8, Reine-Adelaide 7 (Iwobi 72 7), Perez 7.5; Welbeck 8.5 (Sanchez 65 7.5).
Unused subs: Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Jenkinson, Martinez.
Goals: Welbeck 15, 22, Walcott 35, 69, 84
Manager: Arsene Wenger 8
Referee: Kevin Friend 6
Stadium: St Mary’s
So the FA Cup — a competition in which Premier League clubs are ever more frequently choosing to field youngsters, fringe players or those, such as Welbeck, who are returning to fitness — provided the perfect opportunity for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to start his perennially absent striker.
‘I didn’t expect him at that level,’ Wenger admitted afterwards, ‘because I knew he worked very hard but you never know how much players can transfer that into a competitive game.
‘It was great to see he hasn’t lost his runs, he hasn’t lost his finishing and it shows as well, when you are able to transform that frustration of not playing into efficiency, that he’s a special guy.
‘You have always two fears; the first is that it takes him too long to get his decision-making [back], secondly that the player is scared to go into any contact. So when he made the runs and was fighting with the defender, that a was very important moment for him.’
Southampton made 10 changes to the side who set up an EFL Cup final at Wembley by beating Liverpool three days previously and Southampton manager Claude Puel said: ‘I am responsible for this defeat, because I decided to change the team.’
But Arsenal made 10 changes, too, the key difference being that one of Wenger’s many alterations from their last match against Burnley was a £16 million England forward.
And all three of the first half goals displayed different facets of Welbeck’s quality that Arsenal have been missing for so long.
The first, on 15 minutes, was a sublime, delicate finish; running on to a first-time through-ball from Lucas Perez — a pass that equalled the final execution — and taking one touch with his right boot before using it again to poke the ball over Southampton goalkeeper Harry Lewis, who had come from his line.
The ball clipped the underside of the crossbar on its way in for Welbeck’s first goal since April.
Wenger was unable to orchestrate from the touchline due to his four-match ban but, watching from the St Mary’s stands, he had the perfect view of a vintage Arsenal 16-pass move that led to that opening goal.
Seven minutes later, Welbeck ran in behind Southampton’s defence and plucked Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s long pass out of the air before exquisitely sending the ball through Lewis’s legs and rolling into the bottom left corner.
Walcott added the third 10 minutes before the interval but it was gifted by Welbeck’s awareness, evident when he ran in behind Southampton’s defence once again — yet another brilliantly timed dart — but was at too tight an angle on the left to go for goal.
Instead he bypassed Lewis with a low ball across and Walcott was first to it to tap in. Wenger admitted he had his doubts whether Welbeck would ever make it back to his best again after so long out over two spells. ‘He went through some moments of very deep disappointment,’ the Frenchman said.
‘I wondered first of all, will he be solid enough mentally to cope with that.’
Welbeck lasted 20 minutes into the second half and was replaced by Alexis Sanchez, who pulled the ball back for Walcott to make it four shortly after.
It was another trademark Arsenal move, Oxlade-Chamberlain feeding Sanchez on the right byline inside the box and the Chile forward took his time before finding Walcott, who found the bottom left corner with a first-time shot.
Walcott completed his hat-trick with five minutes remaining, Sanchez assisting once more.
Arsenal broke away down the left and Sanchez passed to Walcott on the edge of the box. The former Saint shot low and first time into the left of goal.