Southampton climb out of the drop zone in impressive style. They were tonked 6-1 by Arsenal earlier in this season but here they showed that they have become much more robust while retaining their adventurous spirit. I will be amazed if they go down this season. Arsenal, meanwhile, did not show enough pep or class to justify their big four claims. That has been the case too often this season.
Well played Arsenal! Right up until the point that Gibbs, having provided a valuable overlapped, misdirected his cross, allowing Yoshida to clear. But at least the visitors got behind their hosts, which they have very seldom done today.
Arteta plays a lovely long ball for Giroud, who traps it on his chest but Fonte then intervened to prevent him getting off a shot. On another note, there will be at least three minutes added time.
Puncheon again manoeuvres himself into a shooting position, faking to go on to his left foot before turning past Gibbs to let fly with his right. Again his shot was well struck but again it was straight at Szcsesny.
Puncheon robs Gervinho on half-way and then rumbles deep into Arsenal territory before opening fire from long range. Well struck, but easily saved by Szcsesny.
Gervinho jazzes down the left and then cuts inside for a shot of his right. A reasonable effort but it flies into the sidenetting.
Dear oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. For the severalth time today, Sagna fails to perform an elementary skill, allowing the ball to run under his foot and out of play.
Rodriguez hares down the left but his attempted cut-back goes straight to Szcsesny. "How long into the morning did the Arsenal New Years Party go?" jokes Julie Stricker. "When players technically sound players like Cazorla and Sagna give the ball with such regularity, you can't help but imagine them bobbing for apples in a bucket full of Kentucky bourbon?"
Fine play by Southampton. They're well worth at least a point so far. They've been vibrant and enterprising while also very tight defensively (except for the goal). Arsenal have generally been quite flat.
Southampton change, and a surprising one too: Ramirez, who had been playing well, is taken off. On comes Ward-Prowse.
Sky have shown a replay of the disallowed goal and it shows that Ramirez did perpetrate a sneaky push on Koscileny prior to receiving the ball, so no injustice here, folks.
[Possibly to be said in the style of Jack Nicholson in The Shining] Heeeerre's Gervinho! The Ivorian frustration comes on in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was of little relevance today. Santi Cazorla had no influence either so he's withdrawn for Ramsey.
Meanwhile, Southampton are replacing Lambert with Jay Rodriguez.
Southampton have a goal chalked off after Ramirezs chest down a cross and converts from close range. It's not clear why it was ruled out - the Uruguayan was onside and there was no discernible foul in the build-up.
Giroud picks out Walcott with an astute first-time pass. Walcott should carry it into the box but instead decides to shoot first from the edge of the area. Comfortable save for Boruc.
Giroud came on to give Arsenal a fulcrum but the pressure applied since then by Southampton has reduced the visitors to playing on the counter, and not very often at that. Southampton are looking good but you get the feeling that if they don't take one of their chances soon, Arsenal will strike on the break and give them regret their lack of poise in the box.
A respectable try by Ramirez. His swirling effort from 20 yards hurtles over the bar.
Good pressure from Southampton, with Ramirez to the fore before Lambert clipped a dainty ball over to Davis, who thought about the shot before helping it on to Puncheon. The midfielder's shot under pressure from 15 yards smacks the sidenetting.
Schneiderlin booked for catching Santi Cazorla late.
Puncheon slips one through for Schneiderlin to surge on to, which he does. Szcsesny makes a meal of dealing with it, fobbing it out to the edge of the six-yard box, but it's mercifully behind Lambert so Arsenal get away with it.
Here comes the necessary change. Podolski is being replaced by Giroud, which should mean that Walcott will go to the right and start to get more involved, as will the midfielders as Giroud can bring them into play further up the pitch.
A shot! Sick of the blunt toing and froing, Do Prado decides to go for the jugular and his shot from 25 yards is pushed behind by Szczesny. From the resultant corner Sagna is under pressure from Lambert and sends it towards his own goal with his knee, forcing Szcsesny to make an agile stop again.
It remains very even. Both sides are enjoying spells of possession that break down as soon as they get close to the danger zone.
Wilshere goes long for Walcott again, but Fonte cuts out.
Fonte causes nerves to fray with a weak back pass but Boruc has seen enough of Southampton this season to expect such challenges and was already en route to mop up before Podolski could pounce.
Arsenal still haven't found their groove. Santi Cazorla has exerted little influence and Walcott remains peripheral, as does Oxladae-Chamberlain, who did get up a good run just now but concluded it with a cross wide.
Shoddy defending by Gibbs but Puncheon's subsequent cross wasn't good enough to take advantage.
"Not the biggest Walcott fan eh Paul? I think he's overrated. For me, he has flattered to deceive too many times in his career so far but he clearly has a strong sense of his own worth. Still when you think about what some of the wasters over the road at QPR are earning." - Sean. On the contrary, I am an admirer of Walcott, I just think that too many people were too quick to say he is a great centreforward when there are many occasions when he is simply not suited to the role and would be more effective out wide. He should always be in the team, however, which is why I think Arsenal seek to keep him.
"Is my accidentally placed bet of 25 squids on the over 1.5 goals looking a safe bet?" - Scott Laybourne. Sure is.
Arsenal are lucky to be level. They started quite brightly but then sagged and Southampton and were downright ridiculous for the goal that they conceded, Ramirez converting after slapstick defending. But then the absurdity switched to the other end as Do Prado gifted them an equaliser, the third time that Southampton have scored for Arsenal this season. Arsenal had no shots on target in that half. They showed on Saturday that they are capable of turning things around after a bad first half and they need to do that again here, otherwise Southampton could make them pay.
Wilshere wriggles free of Schneiderlin and then slips a nice ball through to Walcott, who had failed to stay onside, making his shot into the net irrelevant.
Moments after Do Prado fails to get on the end of a cross at the right end following a slick backheel by Ramirez, Arsenal rip forward and Oxlade-Chamberlain whips an inviting low delivery across the face of goal but no one is there to convert.
GOAL! Southampton 1-1 Arsenal (Do Prado og, 40')
Walcott spots a chance to get into the action so goes over to take a freekick in the right. He curls it into the box and Guly Do Prado makes a comical attempt to cut it out, oafishly volleying it into his own net from seven yards with no Arsenal players near him. Southampton's defending has lapsed into farce far too many times this season and it undoes lots of good forward play.
Podolski tries to cross from the left but Cork, who has done well at right-back so far, blocks it. And even if the cross had been good, who was going to head it into the net: Walcott? Come off it. Arsenal needs Giroud here, and Walcott can go back to the wing.
GOAL! Southampton 1-0 Arsenal (Ramirez 34')
Diabolical play by Arsenal, who first lost the ball in midfield (Wilshere?) and then botched several chances to clear the danger (Sagna making particular fool of himself) before the ball broke to Ramirez 16 yards out and he fired into the net!
A lull. "How is the ref supposed to distinguish Arsenal forwards from the Southampton goalie when they are all wearing a black kit?" wonders Richard Stephens. Easy, Arsenal's kit has blue hoops on it. And Southampton's goalkeeper has a spare tyre.
Ramirez bursts into the box and then goes down but, contrary to the belief of the crowd, it was not because Koscielny tripped him (he didn't), rather because he lost his balance.
Wilshere is back, by the way, his grapes apparently no longer feeling the wrath.
If Walcott was on £100,000-per-week, he would have earned about .05p in this match so far. Which is to say, he has done next to nowt. This is where Arsenal need a different type of centre-forward, a fulcrum. Giroud can do it. As can all of the top scorers in the Premier League.
Southampton send lots of players forward but Puncheon's cross from the right is beyond them all. Still, the hosts are enjoying a strong spell and applying plenty of pressure. "I've not seen Southampton play for a while, I obviously missed the removal of white stripes on the shirt: When was that?" asks Nick Thorp, his finger firmly on the pulse. "They're disturbingly reminiscent of Liverpool, except for the impending relegation sadly" Southampton won't go down. Or did you mean Liverpool?
Here's a worry: Wilshere is down injured. He looks very anguished and may have strained his groin. Either that or the ball smashed him in the swingers.
A lull. "Is this Arsenal team the shortest PL team ever, and will it cost goals at set-pieces today?" wonders Chris Sturrock. The current Aston Villa side are probably smaller, and Southampton aren't especially big either. There's a team in Spain called Barcelona that are very small.
Sagna rollicks down the right again, but slips as he shapes to cross, allowing Southampton to tear forward again. But a wayward pass from Davis puts paid to that. This has been scrappy at times but there is still enough quality to make it a pleasant spectacle and both teams have hinted at meaningful threats.
A smart exchange between Wilshere and Podolski ends with the German unleashing a shot from 16 yards but Yoshida threw himself in front to block it.
Ramirez outmuscles Wilshere in midfield and romps forward. His pass is intercepted. But this game has a pleasing openness and urgency about it and you get the feeling that goals are coming.
Southampton string together a decent move. Puncheon pinged the ball in to Davis, who tried to slot a clever pass through to Lambert, but Szcsesny skedaddled off his line to intercept. "Your warm up picture is vintage and perfect," squeals David Harrington. "Jason Dodd and Francis Benali showing some Dutchman how we defend on the south coast. Come on you saints, kick em up in the air, they don't like it up em etc."
That's more like it from Arsenal. They work Sagna into space down the right and he produces a reasonable cross. Boruc comes to collect ... but spills it badly, and Southampton scramble it out for a corner. This time the Pole takes it cleanly. Saints have had big problems with keepers this season: the supposedly trusty veteran, Davis, has been so-so, the promising youngster, Gazzaniga, has been erratic, and the maverick loon, Boruc, has been a maverick loon. You'd expect Nigel Adkins to have got that position right, what with him being the only Premier League manager who used to be a keeper.
Arsenal are playing quite a lot of long balls, presumably because they've been briefed that Southampton play a high line and dropping the ball over them will enable Walcott to show off his speed. But the hosts have not played to that plan and Arsenal's would-be passes have in fact amounted to waste.
Arsenal have made a much better start to the dozy one they produced on Saturday. They look alert and purposeful, already seeking to stretch the Saints.
Arsenal kick off. Within 16 seconds Shaw shows his worth by calmly nudging Oxlade-Chamberlain off the ball and playing Southampton forward.
Southampton do a pre-match huddle. Could they get with the times and send a group text or something?
Pray for the Midlands
"Pressure on Arsenal as all seven London clubs in the top two divisions
have won today," muses cartography's Kevin Porter. "That's Tottenham, West Ham, Fulham, Crystal Palace, Charlton, Millwall and Manchester United. Please say a New Year's Prayer for my beloved West Midlands - Wolves, West Brom, B'ham, Stoke, Coventry and Port Vale all lost, Aston Villa blew it and Walsall, bless them, won!"
Preamble, teams and free flimflam
Welcome to the latest installment of the great Arsenal love story, starring a sensibly-run entertainment business and an ambitious young buck who's had enough of staid ways and is tempted to hightail it to golder pastures. “He loves Arsenal and Arsenal loves him and reciprocity in love is the most difficult thing to find,” perorated French romantic poet Arsene Wenger while swooning below Theo Walcott's balcony after Saturday's wild win over Newcastle. Walcott's hat-trick in that festival, which brought his Premier League goal tally to the season to parity with Steven Fletcher and Rickie Lambert's, should have endeared him further to Arsenal fans, many of whom were calling for him to be jilted just a few months ago, but are the board smitten enough to smash their wage structure? And are other clubs sufficiently infatuated to try to lure the winger-cum-striker away? Perhaps everyone needs another demonstration of Walcott's firepower today to make their heart grow even fonder?
Everyone except Southampton, that is. They've more or less tacked their defence together over the last month or so but there is a real risk of Arsenal banging it into smithereens again (and is that Jack Cork at right-back?). That, at least, might cool interest in Saints left-back Luke Shaw – although probably not, because regardless of what happens today the 17-year-old looks a choice talent: he has a poise and toughness far beyond his years and, incidentally, a way of passing the ball that his mildly reminiscent of Stuart Pearce, insofar as his left leg looks like an ice hockey stick slapping a puck. And the fact that Arsenal seem to want him shows, of course, that Wenger, like anyone who saw the win against Newcastle, knows that Arsenal's defence is still rickety and that, in turn, gives Southampton cause for hope. Even without the wonderful Adam Lallana, the hosts have the wherewithal to cause further embarrassment to Woijech Szczesny & co. But you've got to expect the Pole at the other end to the busiest. And with Artur Boruc back in the side, there's no telling what the score here could. I'll have a stab at Southampton 2-4 Arsenal, with Theo netting a hat-trick and Paris-Saint Germain offering £50m to make him their chéri.
Southampton: Boruc, Cork, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Puncheon, Schneiderlin, S. Davis, Guly, Ramirez, Lambert.
Subs: K.Davis, Hooiveld, Rodriguez, Ward-Prowse, Richardson, Mayuka, De Ridder.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott.
Subs: Martinez, Mertesacker, Coquelin, Ramsey, Rosicky, Gervinho, Giroud.