Arsenal had the chance to go one step closer to Wembley on Wednesday night but were defeated by a better, stronger and more inspired Southampton side.
Aaron Ramsey struggled at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield as Arsenal were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Southampton on a cold Wednesday night at Emirates Stadium.
The scene was set for the Welshman to shine as he started in an inexperienced Gunners midfield alongside Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide. Deployed in Mesut Ozil’s No.10 role throughout most of the game, Ramsey could only manage to create one chance in 90 minutes as an isolated Lucas Perez also appeared bereft of ideas upon his return from injury.
Arsene Wenger said before the game that Arsenal’s squad would consist of "90 per cent first team players" for the visit of the Saints and he was true to his word, although it was a team which featured eleven fringe players; none of whom except Francis Coquelin and potentially Iwobi are likely to start in Saturday’s Premier League clash against West Ham.
On paper the teams looked evenly matched, but the game told another story. Claude Puel’s side came with a gameplan to hit Arsenal on the counter attack and got just what they asked for when Jordy Clasie opened the scoring on 13 minutes. Puel’s well-drilled outfit were almost impossible for Arsenal to break down and fully deserved to make it 2-0 shortly before half-time when the impressive Ryan Bertrand drilled in at the far post from Sofiane Boufal’s cross.
The EFL Cup may not have the same prestige as the FA Cup but the boos ringing out from Arsenal’s home supporters at full-time would have told you different. These are fans who have been accustomed to premature exits from this competition over the years, with Wenger’s side progressing from just one of their previous five League Cup quarter-finals, last doing so in 2010/11.
Ironically, Arsenal have lost just one of their last seven matches against Southampton but the last defeat came as recently as two seasons ago when the Saints beat them 2-1 in a third round League Cup tie at Emirates. Wenger fielded a team of players who he wanted to give a game to and help curb the effects of a congested January fixture list instead of selecting a side who could have secured the Gunners' passage into the semi-finals.
This was a missed opportunity for a much-changed Arsenal side who will be determined to get back on track at the London Stadium this weekend. In what could be Wenger’s final season at the club another bit of silverware has passed him by, but you get the impression that he has his eyes on a bigger prize.