6 talking points as Pepe, Saka and Lacazette score in Arsenal comeback

Arsenal put their FA Cup exit behind them to enact revenge on Southampton and take all three points in their Premier League encounter on Tuesday.

After losing at the same stadium to the same opponents on Saturday, the Gunners stretched their unbeaten league run to six games.

It didn’t go completely to plan, though, as Stuart Armstrong opened the scoring for Southampton after just three minutes as he volleyed home from a corner.

But the visitors were soon back on level terms when Granit Xhaka threaded a pass through for Nicolas Pepe to control and slot home.

Bukayo Saka then completed the turnaround before the half-time break, racing through to round Alex McCarthy and shoot into an empty net.

Bukayo Saka’s second-half goal proved to be the winner for Arsenal

Alexandre Lacazette then sealed the victory for Arsenal, tapping home Saka’s cross from close range after a superb switch of play by Cedric Soares.

Here are the talking points from St. Mary’s.

1. Pepe daydreaming

Nicolas Pepe watches on as Stuart Armstrong's strike flies past Bernd Leno
Nicolas Pepe watches on as Stuart Armstrong’s strike flies past Bernd Leno

After struggling to recover a one-goal deficit at the weekend, Arsenal needed a strong start at St. Mary’s this time round.

And having personally failed to make a real impact in Saturday’s FA Cup tie, you’d have thought Nicolas Pepe would have been keen to justify his inclusion.

But just three minutes in, Pepe’s lapse in concentration allowed Armstrong in unmarked to score.

Pepe didn’t look at all interested in picking up a man or covering a zone in the box, and reacted so slowly the ball was already on its way into the back of the net by the time he had realised the danger.

Mikel Arteta has been patient with Pepe and continues to give him his chance, but incidents like this are not helping the winger’s cause.

That said, take nothing away from Armstrong for what was a well-controlled strike to open the scoring.

2. The other side of Pepe

Pepe strokes the ball home to level the scoring
Pepe strokes the ball home to level the scoring

Thankfully for Arsenal and their £72million attacker, Pepe quickly made amends.

Five minutes after falling asleep at his own end, Pepe slipped in behind the Southampton defence to hit a low shot past Alex McCarthy to equalise.

It seemed to spark him into life and he was central to much of the Gunners’ attacking play from then on.

He drove forward, took players on, fed the ball to teammates into good areas and was an overall nuisance for Southampton to deal with.

Arteta’s decision switch to him the left-flank certainly paid dividends.

We have witnessed glimpses of what he could be capable of, but the moments he has impressed in an Arsenal shirt have been all too fleeting.

Perhaps this was the change he needed.

3. Saka’s slick finish

Bukayo Saka applies the finishing touch after rounding Saints' keeper Alex McCarthy
Bukayo Saka applies the finishing touch after rounding Saints’ keeper Alex McCarthy

Another week, another crucial contribution from Bukayo Saka.

The youngster is quickly becoming Arsenal’s most important player, and once again came up with the goods for his side.

Alexandre Lacazette’s first time pass could hardly have been better, suckering goalkeeper McCarthy out of his area into no-mans land.

Saka flicked the ball round him but still had plenty to do with defenders racing back to their goal.

Had he taken a touch it may have given them time to stop the goal, but an off-balance Saka shot quickly to give his side the lead. Impressive.

Four goals in his last six starts – even more so.

4. Xhaka-Partey pivot

Thomas Partey was superb alongside Granit Xhaka in central midfield
Thomas Partey was superb alongside Granit Xhaka in central midfield

Central midfield has long been a problem area for Arsenal, but with Thomas Partey’s return from injury, coupled with Granit Xhaka’s improved form, they may now have the answer.

Both players were excellent as the double pivot in the middle of the park, allowing Arsenal’s forwards the freedom to bomb on as they mopped up any danger.

They complimented each other so well and spread play with apparent ease while offering the robust and at times ruthless defensive work Arsenal have needed for some time.

Xhaka also produced a classy assist for Pepe’s equaliser amid a spell where he is arguably playing his best football for Arsenal, which is no doubt a welcome sight for Gunners fans.

5. Cedric stakes a claim

Cedric Soares impressed for Arsenal on his latest showing
Cedric Soares impressed for Arsenal on his latest showing

With Kieran Tierney ruled out with a minor injury, Cedric Soares was given a third successive start in Arsenal’s defence.

He was solid enough in Saturday’s defeat against his old club, but stepped it up a gear and produced a decent performance here.

Not only was Cedric good defensively, he provided effective support and a threat going forward too, most notably through his excellent cross-field pre-assist for Lacazette’s goal.

His move to Arsenal has been questioned, but Cedric has shown he is a reliable option when called upon.

He’s not going to displace Tierney long-term, but considering the Scot’s injury issues, and Hector Bellerin’s inconsistency in Cedric’s favoured right-back position, he can certainly play a bigger part this season.

6. Armstrong outstanding

Stuart Armstrong was the standout player for the hosts
Stuart Armstrong was the standout player for the hosts

Perhaps often overlooked for some of his better-known teammates, Stuart Armstrong provided a real showcase of his talents with a superb display for Southampton.

His night got off to a flier with his goal, and he almost had another not long after when his curling effort dipped just the wrong side of the post.

Armstrong caused Arsenal problems all game with his direct, continuous running and constant probing.

If anyone looked likely to pull the Saints back in it, it was him, and he may feel hard done by to end the night on the losing side.

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