Saturday, May 28, 2022

Gunners’ top four hopes hanging by thread with three losses on bounce after Jan Bednarek winner

ARSENAL will have to settle for looking for Easter choccy in the garden after their top-four hunt took another major blow. 

Saints rose from the dead thanks to Jan Bednarek hitting his first goal in three months to stop the rot on the South Coast and end a winless run of six.

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Arsenal’s top four hopes took a hit as they lost 1-0 at SouthamptonCredit: Rex
Jan Bednarek's strike gave the Saints a deserved win at home

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Jan Bednarek’s strike gave the Saints a deserved win at homeCredit: Getty

Arsenal have now been dragged down to sixth, level on 54 points with fifth-place Manchester United who won at Norwich.

To be fair to them they could have been out of sight if it hadn’t been for the heroics of the host’s goalkeeper Fraser Forster. 

Boss Mikel Arteta has consistently played down talk of his side returning to Europe’s top competition after a six-year absence.

And you can see why after a woeful run of four losses in their last five has left their Champions League dreams in tatters. 

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Their fans certainly hadn’t given up hope before the match, particularly with Tottenham slipping up at Brighton to put more twists and turns in this top-four rollercoaster.

They roared: “We’ve got super Mik Artea, he’s got exactly what we need. Tierney at the back, Saka in attack, Arsenal will win the Champions League.” 

The chant was clearly written before Tierney was injured as well as key men Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu at a crucial point in the campaign.

But their glittering spell before that of five back to back wins means it’s not out of sight.

Arsenal have now lost three on the trot and four of their last five

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Arsenal have now lost three on the trot and four of their last fiveCredit: Rex
Southampton ended their winless run of six in style

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Southampton ended their winless run of six in styleCredit: PA

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It was a pulsating opening half at St Mary’s with Saints eager for an Easter resurrection. 

Dumped out of the FA Cup and outplayed in the Prem, their lofty hopes of a trip to Wembley and a top-half finish have quickly unravelled in the last month.

There is no shame in the first of those aims fading at the hands of Manchester City, but the second had slipped away at an alarming rate.

They looked a different animal with powerhouse Armando Broja, 20, back in the fray after missing out against parent club Chelsea last time out. 

The youngster has not scored in the league for two months, his barren streak coinciding with a poor run of form for the Saints – but he was itching to put that right. 

Bednarek scored the only goal of the game in the 44th minute

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Bednarek scored the only goal of the game in the 44th minuteCredit: Getty
The Polish defender was delighted to make a huge statement at St Mary's

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The Polish defender was delighted to make a huge statement at St Mary’sCredit: Getty

He shimmied into the box, flinging off a gaggle of Arsenal shirts to put it on a plate for Oriol Romeu and Mohamed Elyounoussi, but neither could make the crucial touch.

The Gunners hit back strongly and they could have easily been 3-0 up if it had not been for Forster. 

The 34-year-old is out of contract in the summer and Ralph Hasenhuttl will be sweating on him signing a new deal.

His fingertips kept out a rasping Gabriel Martinelli shot before Saka stung his hands from point-blank range. 

Saints had seen enough and a long throw dropped to Stuart Armstrong in the box, but Aaron Ramsdale did well to mop up any real danger. 

The hosts cracked in another warning shot when James Ward-Prowse lashed in a menacing free-kick which Broja latched his noggin on to, before Eddie Nketiah made a crucial block.

Arsenal had several chances to equalise but were denied by goalie Fraser Forster

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Arsenal had several chances to equalise but were denied by goalie Fraser ForsterCredit: Getty
The likes of Gabriel Martinelli struggled for opportunities against Saints

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The likes of Gabriel Martinelli struggled for opportunities against SaintsCredit: Reuters

The visitors should have seen the sucker punch coming. 

An initial corner was punched away by Ramsdale but quickly hooked back towards the Gunners goal. 

Elyounoussi pounced on it and whipped a low cross to Bednarek to fire home a fierce strike on 44 minutes.

It was the Polish centre-back’s first-time on target since the club’s 4-1 demolition of Brentford in January.

The first promising chance for the Gunners after the break fell to Granit Xhaka, who was making his first appearance since his soul-baring interview on his fan hell.

Southampton's defenders showed no mercy as they pressed hard

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Southampton’s defenders showed no mercy as they pressed hardCredit: Reuters
Arsenal must find some form quickly if they are to make the Champions League

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Arsenal must find some form quickly if they are to make the Champions LeagueCredit: AFP

Mikel Arteta reckons the rift between the supporters and the Swiss midfielder is close to healing 

Xhaka himself compared it to picking up pieces of broken glass – but he could have shattered it again after blazing the first golden chance well over the bar.

Arteta beefed up the Arsenal attack by bringing on Emile Smith-Rowe for Cedric Soares just before the hour mark. 

And it worked with Smith-Rowe finding a pocket of space in the box and getting a shot away before it was blocked by his OWN teammate Martinelli.

That just about summed up Arsenal’s afternoon. 

They weren’t planning on going out with their tails between their legs and they pelted Forster’s goal with a number of shots. 

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Saka nearly came up with the goods, twisting and turning into the box to send a dipping and curling shot inches from the left post.

Smith-Rowe muscled in again, leathering an awkward shot at Forster who did brilliantly again to tip it to safety. 

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