Southampton beat Arsenal 2-0 at St. Mary’s in the English Premier League on Thursday to maintain its surprise challenge for Champions League football.
Sadio Mane’s third goal in as many games from the narrowest of angles gave Southampton the lead in the 34th minute, and Dusan Tadic capitalized upon a defensive error to add another in the 56th and seal victory against one of its rivals for a top-four finish.
Ronald Koeman’s side stays fourth with the victory but has a three-point cushion over Arsenal in fifth, and is only a point behind third-place Manchester United after it drew at Stoke.
”It is nice to start the new year like this,” Koeman said. ”This result shows that we can beat a big team. We are learning, and that is important. The team showed their belief.”
Southampton could have taken the lead after only seven minutes when Graziano Pelle headed a looping ball into the area against the foot of the post.
But Arsenal rallied, and brought an excellent save from Fraser Forster in the 20th.
Alexis Sanchez cut the ball back across goal and into the path of midfielder Santi Cazorla, only for Forster to beat his shot away.
The miss was punished 14 minutes later when Mane brushed past Laurent Koscielny’s feeble attempt to block his path to goal, before reaching a pass ahead of Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who inexplicably rushed far out of his goal.
Pelle was poised in the center of the penalty area, demanding possession as he faced an unguarded net, but Mane chose to lob the ball perfectly over Szczesny and into the goal from the narrowest of angles.
It was an outstanding strike, but Mane’s exertions to retain possession in the buildup came at a cost. He pulled up limping before play restarted, and seven minutes later was replaced by Harrison Reed.
Arsenal laid Southampton’s goal under siege in the opening exchanges of the second half, and was denied by a second tremendous stop from Forster after 55 minutes.
Sanchez received the ball in the penalty area, slalomed into space and shot low at goal, but Forster flung himself down to palm away the strike and rose quickly to claim the rebound.
It proved to be a pivotal moment.
Southampton’s following attack saw Victor Wanyama play in Steven Davis down the right with a searching ball over the defense.
Davis controlled, whipped an angled ball across the penalty area and Mathieu Debuchy and Szczesny could only direct a scrambled clearance into the path of Tadic, who lashed in from close range to double Southampton’s lead.
The host kept attacking. Pelle hit the post for the second time, and had a shot headed off the line by Debuchy, the chance coming after Szczesy gifted Tadic possession in another error that could have led to a goal.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was fuming at the lapses in concentration from his defense.
”It was a self-inflicted defeat,” Wenger said. ”We made the mistakes at the back, their goalkeeper kept them in the game. The lapses of focus in vital areas, we paid for them. It is difficult to find a reason why it happened straight after the game.”