London (AFP) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spared Mikel Arteta from yet another Emirates Stadium nightmare as the Arsenal captain rescued a 1-1 draw against Southampton as Gunners defender Gabriel was sent off.
With Arteta under intense pressure after his side’s wretched recent run, the Arsenal manager was shifting uncomfortably on the touchline when Theo Walcott put Southampton ahead in the first half on Wednesday.
Walcott’s goal against his troubled former club was a painful twist of the knife, but Aubameyang ended a run of 11 games without a goal in open play with his second-half equaliser.
Arsenal had to play the last 28 minutes with 10 men after Gabriel was sent off for a second booking, but they held firm to avoid the ignominy of a fifth successive home league defeat.
While a point was something of a relief for Arteta in the circumstances, his 50th game in charge was hardly a cause for celebration.
Arsenal are languishing in 15th place after seven defeats in their first 13 league games and sit much closer to the relegation zone than the top four.
Arteta insisted this week that he is strong enough to cope with the pressure of Arsenal’s worst start to a season since 1974.
But the Gunners’ six-match winless league run leaves him engaged in a fight to save his job heading into the hectic Christmas period.
Arteta made four changes from the Burnley defeat last weekend, with Nicolas Pepe, Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dani Ceballos coming in.
– Bereft of confidence –
Despite the switches, Arsenal still looked bereft of confidence.
Disorganised at the back and short of leadership in midfield, Arteta’s team were carved open with ease when Walcott put Southampton ahead in the 18th minute.
Somehow, it was inevitable that Walcott, who scored 108 goals for Arsenal between 2006 and 2018, would be the man to add to their woes.
Arsenal carelessly surrendered possession and Che Adams made them pay with a fine pass behind Kieran Tierney to pick out Walcott, who sprinted clear and clipped a cool finish over Bernd Leno.
Walcott’s gleeful celebration made it clear he had no problem with rubbing salt into his old club’s wounds.
With London clubs no longer allowed to have fans in their stadiums due to the strengthening of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Arteta was spared from the prospect of Arsenal fans turning on him.
If that was fortunate for the Spaniard, there was no such luck on the pitch as Ceballos appealed in vain for a penalty when he went to ground after contact from Jan Bednarek.
Aubameyang was anonymous in the first half, maintaining a pattern since he signed his new contract in September.
But when Arteta needed him most, the Gabon forward came to his rescue with just his fifth goal of the season in the 52nd minute.
Bukayo Saka was the catalyst with a superb run past three Southampton players down the left wing.
Nketiah took Saka’s pass and guided the ball deftly into Aubameyang’s path and he stroked a cool finish into the far corner from the edge of the area.
Having ended a run of over 13 hours without a league goal in open play, Arteta’s relief was clear to see as he celebrated by punching the air.
But there was more angst for Arteta in the 62nd minute as Gabriel was sent off.
Guilty of getting too close to Walcott, the winger’s nimble turn triggered a panicked tackle from the centre-back, who hauled him down and could have no complaints about his early exit.
It was Arsenal’s second red card in two games, and the seventh of Arteta’s 12-month reign, following Granit Xhaka’s foolish dismissal for grabbing Burnley’s Ashley Westwood around the neck at the weekend.
In a tense finale, Southampton’s Nathan Redmond stretched to shoot against the bar before Arsenal defender Rob Holding hit the woodwork with a header in stoppage-time.
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