Belfast Telegraph

Wenger stands by his decision to overhaul Arsenal line-up as classy Saints go marching on

Arsenal 0 - Southampton 2

By Helen Rowe-Willcocks

Arsene Wenger defended his decision to make 10 changes after Arsenal were defeated 2-0 by Southampton in the EFL Cup quarter-finals.

Gunners midfielder Mohamed Elneny was the only survivor from Sunday's Premier League win over Bournemouth and, even with Granit Xhaka and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming off the bench, Wenger's men never looked close to getting on the scoresheet.

The Saints will now face Liverpool in a two-legged semi-final.

The defeat is Arsenal's first in 19 games in all competitions, but Wenger says the only thing he would change is the result of the match.

He said: "I regret that we lost the game. We had played well until now. If you look at the players who played well tonight, some of those who did not play tonight were on the edge.

"In midfield we had Coquelin, Ramsey, Elneny, Xhaka, Perez... Giroud was injured. We had Iwobi, one of the regular players in the first team.

"The problem wasn't there. We had players who are used to top-level competition. But we didn't have the right urgency."

With their first real attack after 13 minutes, Southampton took the lead with embarrassing ease.

Ryan Bertrand broke down the left, against no challenge, and crossed. Sofiane Boufal's shot was blocked by Rob Holding but the ball fell to Jordy Clasie, loitering on the edge of the box. Again, there was no challenge, so Clasie drove it into the near top corner of the net.

There followed another spell of Arsenal possession, but another one with no real speed, incision or skill. The Saints simply sat and waited.

Next time they went forward, they scored again.

Steven Davis won the ball from Carl Jenkinson and charged forward. He passed to Boufal, who crossed in from the left to the edge of the box. Bertrand had time to take a touch and direct his shot into the bottom corner before the Arsenal centre-backs had woken up.

Though the hosts upped their game late on, it was Southampton who were the more likely to score at the end. Northern Ireland captain Davis hit a lob onto the roof of the net, while Shane Long ran through and skewed wide.

They did not need a third goal, though. Two was more than enough. Wenger added: "I'm disappointed. We had a disappointing performance, particularly in the first half.

"I think we were not good enough defensively and gave cheap goals away in the first half.

"It was better in the second, but it was one of those nights where you look like you could play two hours without scoring.

"We didn't have enough urgency in the first half and were weak in some departments. We paid for that. We were not incisive enough in the first half.

"They played deeper in the second half and were sharper than us and fitter. If you give away a handicap of two goals against a Premier League side, it's difficult."

Southampton are through to their first League Cup semi-final since 1987, when they were beaten over two legs by Liverpool, the same team they face in this year's last four.

Manager Claude Puel was happy with how his team performed.

"It was a great performance because this game was a different profile," he said. "We were clinical in the first half, with two goals from two chances.

"After, in the second half, we had many chances to score another goal and make the game safe against a good team.

"It was a fantastic game to achieve that result: good solidarity, good attitude. I enjoyed what my players did.

"We have a chance to play a semi-final, home and away, in the second half of the season. That was the objective.

"(There are some) very important games in the future."

ARSENAL: Martinez, Jenkinson (Maitland-Niles, 64 mins), Gabriel, Holding, Gibbs, Coquelin, Elneny (Xhaka, 43 mins), Reine-Adelaide (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 62 mins), Ramsey, Iwobi, Lucas Perez. Unused subs: Bielik, Bola, Macey, Mavididi.

Southampton: Forster, Martina, Yoshida, Van Dijk, Bertrand, Reed (Hojbjerg, 66 mins), Clasie, Davis, Boufal (Sims, 66 mins), Long, McQueen. Unused subs: Cedric, Rodriguez, Ward-Prowse, Stephens, Lewis.

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)

Man of the match: Jordy Clasie

Match rating: 7/10


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