Arsenal missed their chance to go top of the English Premier League (EPL) when they were thrashed 0-4 by Southampton at the St Mary’s Stadium here.
On Boxing Day day when league leaders Leicester City (38 points) lost to Liverpool, second placed Arsenal (36), coming off a big triumph over Manchester City in their last match, were expected to soar high.
But a sensational goal from Cuco Martina, two second half strikes from Shane Long and a Jose Fonte header earned Southampton a stunning 4-0 win.
Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Sunderland meant they are now only one point short of Arsenal as the title race becomes more open. Tottenham Hotspur (32) maintained their fourth position with a 3-0 victory over Norwich City.
On Saturday night, the form book favoured Arsenal. They went into the game on a three-match winning streak; Southampton hadn’t won in six. But Arsenal have struggled on the south coast in recent years, victorious on just one of their last six visits.
Coach Arsene Wenger stuck with the side that beat City on Monday but Arsenal lacked their usual sharpness and struggled to create chances in open play.
Arsenal had some opportunities to break the deadlock when Ozil — already the proud owner of 15 assists this season — was denied a 16th when Oliver Giroud sent a free header over the bar from a corner. There were mitigating circumstances — a blustery wind that affected dead balls throughout the game — but Giroud usually snaffles those chances.
An Ozil free-kick drifted just beyond Per Mertesacker as Arsenal continued to start brightly but Southampton’s energetic pressing soon told.
Sadio Mane, Steven Davis and James Ward-Prowse grew into the game and, with Long running the channels eagerly, the home side pushed Arsenal back, denying Ramsey and Flamini time on the ball.
Ryan Bertrand’s marauding run ended with a timely intervention from Mertesacker but Martina made the most of the chance as the full-back connected with a volley from fully 30 yards out which arched into the far corner of the net for the 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.
Saints had two goals ruled out in between their next strike, with Long and Van Dijk each seeing efforts not given for a foul and an offside decision respectively.
It was 2-0 ten minutes into the second half when a patient counter-attacking move ended with Long finishing well from Mané’s assist. Long found Mane and appeared to clip Koscielny as the two crossed paths on their way to the penalty area. Laurent Koscielny went down, Long was suddenly free in the box and Mane squared the ball for his teammate to tap in.
Later Aaron Ramsey tried his luck from the edge of the box but a deflection took the edge off his shot. Then Wenger brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain but Arsenal were rocked again when Fonte rose to power a header past Cech from Ryan Bertrand’s corner.
Long rolled home the game’s fourth with almost the last kick of the match to extend Arsenal’s winless run at St Mary’s to five games, thereby ending Arsenal’s three-win streak.
Arsenal will look for redemption when they face Bournemouth at the Emirates Stadium on Monday.
“I said before the game at the moment if we are one point ahead or one point behind it is not too important. It is the performance that counts. We were not good enough to win the game and we have to look at that,” coach Wenger told arsenal.com after the loss.
“On the other hand we can’t look too much at that as in 48 hours we play again. We were disappointed and frustrated and the only way is to respond in 48 hours.”