No way back? Arsenal's season at breaking point after Southampton leave Champions League dream in tatters

Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2021-22Getty Images

Match statistics: Southampton 1-0 Arsenal

Just when you thought it could not get any worse…

After two successive defeats in the Premier League, Arsenal arrived at Southampton on Saturday in what appeared to be the last chance saloon in terms of the race for the top four.

But Tottenham’s surprise defeat at home to Brighton in the lunchtime kick-off suddenly saw the door for possible Champions League qualification swing back open again for Mikel Arteta’s side.

With games now running out, it was a chance they simply had to take. But instead they fluffed their lines - again.

There was perhaps a slight improvement on the performances against Crystal Palace and Brighton, but this is an Arsenal side that now looks devoid of quality and ideas.

They dominated possession at St Mary’s, but could not find a way back after Jan Bednarek had given the hosts the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Gabriel Arsenal 2021-22
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They had their chances, with Southampton keeper Fraser Forster making a string of saves, including two incredible stops to deny Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.

But with so much on the line and with Spurs having slipped up, this just was not good enough from Arsenal. This was their chance to get back in the mix, but instead they slipped further into disarray.

Arteta’s side have now lost four of their last five Premier League games and have scored just two goals in the process.

They have capitulated at the business end of the season and could end up missing out on qualification for the Europa League if they do not turn things around quickly.

They have now slipped to sixth in the table, with Manchester United moving above them following their win against Norwich. They could even end the weekend in seventh, if West Ham beat Burnley on Sunday.

It has been a nightmare few weeks for Arteta’s side and they now face games against Chelsea and United in the next seven days.

They must win at least one of those to keep any hopes they may still have alive - but on current evidence that looks extremely unlikely.

After the debacle against Brighton last weekend, Arteta brought Nuno Tavares back into the side at left-back and restored Granit Xhaka to the midfield.

It was a change that brought about a much more assured performance from Arsenal, but they still lacked any sort of cutting edge in the final third.

With Alexandre Lacazette missing due to Covid, Eddie Nketiah got a rare start as the central striker and some good play from him helped set up a golden chance for Saka midway through the first half.

Arsenal’s top scorer looked certain to score after being found by Gabriel Martinelli, but somehow Forster threw out an arm and pushed the England international’s shot over from point blank range.

That became a familiar theme, with Forster providing an impenetrable barrier for Arsenal.

After Bednarek had given the hosts a lead to protect just before half-time, Forster did superbly to keep out Smith Rowe and Xhaka, while Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli sent efforts wide when well placed.

The sight of an Arsenal player standing with his head in his hands in front of goal is now becoming an all too familiar theme.

By the time the full-time whistle had blown at St Mary’s, the visitors had fired in 23 efforts in goal, 19 of which came in the second half.

But as has been the way for much of the season, they were unable to convert those chances into goals.

A lack of firepower always looked like it might undo Arsenal’s hopes this season, especially when they let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave in January without bringing in a replacement.

And that is how things are now turning out. At the point of the season when you have to take your chances, Arsenal have been found wanting.

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They have scored just once in their last three games, and even that came from a deflection.

From their last 73 attempts on goal, Arsenal have scored just twice. That is simply not good enough and it has left them with a mountain to climb during the final weeks of the campaign.

A season that promised so much is now in danger of total collapse, and on this evidence Arteta appears unable to avert to slide.