Fabulous Sanchez strikes again as Arsenal dig deep for victory
Chilean secures another win for Gunners, but Emirates atmosphere remains subdued
Arsenal 1 Southampton 0. Where would they be without him? Alexis Sanchez came to Arsenal's rescue again on Wednesday night, the Chilean striker scoring his 14th goal of the season (his teammates have managed 23 between them) as the Gunners ground out a 1-0 victory over Southampton.
The 89th minute goal was tough on the Saints, who gave as good as they got, which to be frank, wasn't much in a match that did little to lift the spirits of Gooners who believe their club needs a new direction. Remarkably, Sanchez's late strike was the seventh Arsenal have scored in the last five minutes of a league match this season.
The win lifts Arsenal into sixth, though they remain 13 points behind leaders Chelsea, whose 3-0 thumping of Tottenham moves them onto 36 points. Second-placed Manchester City also won easily, in their case away at Sunderland, and now sit six points behind the leaders, but four points above Southampton in third after the south coast club's second league defeat in four days.
Sanchez's sharpness in front of the sticks was in stark contrast to that of teammate Danny Welbeck, who huffed and puffed throughout, but blew the best chance of the first half when he butchered a one on one with Saints keeper Fraser Forster. The England gloveman pulled off a fine save to prevent an own goal on the stroke of half-time – Welbeck's header taking a deflection from a Southampton defender – and he also denied substitute Olivier Giroud when the Frenchman let fly with a rasping half volley late on.
Giroud, whose arrival on 65 minutes for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brought a greater urgency to Arsenal, was involved in the winner. With Southampton down to ten men because Toby Alderweireld's hamstring had gone after manager Ronald Koeman had deployed his three subs, the impressive Calum Chambers once again found space on the right. His cross caused panic in the Saints' penalty area with Forster managing to flap the ball out of the path of Giroud. But the ball ended up at the feet of Sanchez and he fired home to the evident relief of Arsene Wenger.
While there was no sign of the ‘Thanks for the Memories' banner that had been unfurled at the Hawthorns on Saturday, the atmosphere at the Emirates was at time funereal and the three points, while welcome, will only silence Wenger's critics temporarily, some of whom booed his decision to haul off Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The fact remains, however, that Arsenal have won three games in the space of a week, something Wenger was quick to point out. "It was difficult for us to keep going from the start of the game because we've given a lot against Dortmund and on Saturday [vs WBA]," he told reporters. "Today was the third game in seven days. You could see that we had to dig deep."
One of those players "who had to dig in", continued Wenger, was Sanchez but the Frenchman was effusive in his praise of his South American striker. "He still has such a desire to fight, which is why he always finds something special to get the goal," explained Wenger. "It's difficult to find examples of people who have settled so quickly. We are in December and he arrived in July... when you look at the number of goals and the impact he has on the team, it's fabulous."