Arsenal's Cazorla silences the jeers and relieved Wenger backs Gunners to fire again
Arsenal 2 Southampton 1
"Relief" was the buzzword at the Emirates on Saturday evening as Arsenal edged past Southampton courtesy of a contentious late Santi Cazorla penalty.
Arsene Wenger's side mustered just two attempts on target against the resolute and organised Saints as a typically hostile home crowd let their feelings be known with their usual repertoire of jeers and groans.
Having dropped five points before the international break, losing the opening match to Liverpool before a stalemate at Leicester City, Wenger would have been well aware that a second consecutive failure on his own patch would have left the Gunners seven adrift of leaders Manchester City. This last-gasp victory merely delays the inquest for another day; potentially Tuesday night when Paris Saint-Germain are their hosts in the Champions League.
"We had a little slow start and, after 20 minutes we were one down, but we came back into the game and we had a good response," Wenger said at full-time.
"In the second half, I felt we dominated and created many dangerous situations but we could not score. Southampton were a threat on the counter-attack but in the end we got the penalty so it is a relief.
"When you lose your first home game, you cannot afford to drop points in the second because it increases the anxiety levels. That's not what we really want. It is another win after Watford [a 3-1 success a fortnight ago] and two wins together. If you can put some wins together, it is a help to be more confident and get to a fluent level like we want to play."
Arsenal were anything but fluent on occasions, however, as they probed their guests without alarming Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster. Petr Cech's unfortunate own goal - conceded after Dusan Tadic's free-kick ricocheted off the crossbar, onto his back, and bobbled in - was quickly dealt with.
Laurent Koscielny dispatched a super bicycle kick on the half-hour to ease the tension on his 31st birthday. But the 60 minutes of huffing and puffing which followed took its toll on Wenger's men with new signings Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez delivering decent, if unremarkable, debuts in the late summer rain.
Wenger added: "I feel both are short on competition and their second half was much better than their first half. They were a bit surprised by the pace and commitment of the Premier League but they will adapt to that. They were a bit nervous in the first-half as well, I think, but it was much better in the second half.
"Perez has played one game, the first game of La Liga, and they didn't play him any more because they knew he would go. Mustafi has only played one half with Valencia so they are a bit missing in games."
The trip to Paris, then, lies ominously on the horizon with neither the bookmakers nor Arsenal's fans placing much faith in their chances of returning with three points. Those anxiety levels, albeit soothed this weekend, could be about to spike once again.
ARSENAL: Cech, Koscielny, Monreal, Bellerin, Mustafi, Coquelin, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Sanchez, 62 mins), Walcott (Iwobi, 75 mins), Cazorla, Perez (Giroud, 62 mins). Unused subs: Ospina, Holding, Xhaka, Elneny.
SOUTHAMPTON: Forster, Cédric, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis, Clasie (Højbjerg, 63 mins), Tadicć (Ward-Prowse, 80 mins), Redmond, Rodriguez (Long, 46 mins). Unused subs: McCarthy, Yoshida, Targett, Austin.
Referee: Robert Madley
Man of the match: Laurent Koscielny
Match rating: 6/10