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Alex the great leads the way for Gunners

GUNNER BE GOOD: Alex Lacazette (right) just after opening the scoring against the Saints

A ROUTINE victory sent Unai Emery’s side back into the top four and left Southampton languishing in the relegation zone (Feb 24). First half strikes from Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan gave Arsenal a lead they rarely looked like surrendering.

This match stood in stark contrast to the meeting of these sides at St Mary’s in mid-December, when Southampton ended Arsenal’s 22-match unbeaten run with a 3-2 triumph.

The sense at the time was that the Gunners’ unbeaten streak masked obvious limitations, particularly in defence, and a loss had been coming - a view supported by the six defeats that followed in their next 14 matches.

Southampton never came close to repeating that success here and might have considered themselves fortunate to be just two down at the interval.

Emery sent his team out in a 4-2-3-1, possibly their best-fitting formation, and Arsenal claimed their second victory in four days, following on from their routine dismissal of BATE Borisov here on Thursday night.

Southampton’s chief tormentor, Alex Iwobi, in a stirring riposte to his most vocal critics, shone brightest on the left, although the goalscoring duo were not far behind.

First up on six minutes was Lacazette, who was alert while some of his teammates pleaded for a penalty for a possible foul on Lucas Torreira by Jack Stephens. Referee Graham Scott was ultimately absolved from making a decision.

The Nigerian delivered a cross for Mkhitaryan, whose wild effort was steered goalwards by a smart back-flick from Lacazette. The Frenchman had been played onside by Jan Bednarek.

If Arsenal’s first goal was fortuitous then Southampton had no one to blame but themselves for the second on 17 minutes.

Stephens played a weak backpass under pressure from Lacazette and a suddenly panicked Angus Gunn hoiked his clearance into the path of Iwobi who, fleet of foot, bought himself a yard of space to square for Mkhitaryan.

The ball took a deflection off Bednarek but Mkhitaryan thumped the ball low and hard beyond Gunn.

Southampton improved after the break having switched from an ungainly five at the back to a more effective 4-3-3 but Arsenal largely kept them at arm’s length.

After a rare lapse, when Granit Xhaka gifted possession to James Ward-Prowse, it was tempting to wonder what might have been had the midfielder scored instead of narrowly missing the target.

Arsenal have continually coughed up goals and chances to grateful opponents this season but they were steadfast here, with goalkeeper Bernd Leno commanding at the back.

Mesut Ozil was given a second half run-out to general acclaim but Arsenal visibly eased up as time ticked by, perhaps mindful of a testing week ahead that culminates in a north London derby.

Victory for Southampton at home to Fulham on Wednesday night is surely a must, although their cause will not be helped by the continuing absence of Danny Ings or the impending absence of Michael Obafemi.

The Republic of Ireland international, making his first appearance since December, lasted just 20 minutes as a second half substitute before suffering a recurrence of a hamstring injury.

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