Arsenal pass another test with victory over Southampton

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Arsene Wenger was a very happy man after his Arsenal side had secured a relatively comfortable 2-0 win over pretenders Southampton on Saturday.

He was happy that his side had passed a tricky test against a team that had previously upset Manchester United and Liverpool to name but a few. He was happy that another test had been passed. Happy that two weeks scattered around the globe didn't affect his team.

Relief washed over Wenger after he had watched Olivier Giroud score twice - once from the penalty spot and once from a gift handed out by Southampton's oafish goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

He was gracious in victory, showering praise on a Southampton side that scarcely deserved it, so much did they flatter to deceive.

"To stop us from playing it was the best we have seen," said the Frenchman, who could afford to be generous with three points tucked in his top pocket.

The win at the Emirates Stadium wasn't a marker, nor was it a signifier of something special, unlike say recent results against Borussia Dortmund or Liverpool. It did not indicate that the Gunners were at the top to stay, whether you liked it or not.

What it did represent however was a step on a slippery path, a tick in a box. A shortening of the stick used to beat them when assessing their title credentials. Nothing more, nothing less. As they old saying goes, a win's a win.

Their performance wasn't all-encompassing, nor was it without its flaws. Southampton, who huffed and puffed as best they could, had their best success through balls into the box from the industrious James Ward-Prowse, something sure to concern Wenger with sterner examinations on the horizon.

If Arsenal were looking for positives or signals then there were plenty, most notably the rising to the occasion of Giroud, but above all they were to be found in their character and other such intangibles.

The overriding feeling at Arsenal is that this was a case of "job done" against a Southampton side that were, it mustn't be forgotten, heading for the top with victory.

Of their three key creative players; Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, only the latter really had any influence on proceedings. Similarly, chances were at a premium and the sense-blurring interplay that Arsenal have trademarked this season wasn't quite there either.

They did however snuff out danger when Southampton tried to rally early in the second half thanks to a combination of mental toughness and a solid foundation laid by impressive midfield pair Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta, who came out on top in their battle against Morgan Schneiderlin and the effervescent Victor Wanyama.

Maurico Pochettino's blizzard of a side that managed only to gust on Saturday, either through design or desperation, put in more than their fair share of meaty challenges, but Arsenal kept their head, and if the visitors gifted them their goals they, or more pertinently, Giroud, had at least to be switched on to pick the low-hanging fruit.

"That is the most pleasing thing today," Wenger said. "Certainly not our technical qualities that I know about. Today we were tested by being challenged for every single ball and we responded quite well.

"We always had the focus and for 90 minutes I could never feel that we eased off a little bit. They made it very difficult for us.

"This win shows we are ready for a fight when it doesn't go as fluent as we wanted. That we can fight as well and on that front I'm very happy today."

The sense of satisfaction afterwards from Wenger came not only from the victory in itself, but also from the fact that there had been no hangover from the 1-0 defeat against Manchester United before the international break.

Perhaps Wenger felt that his teams in recent years wouldn't have slotted so easily back into winning ways after a enforced break away from the rhythm of the Premier League, and off the back of a reality check in defeat at Old Trafford.

Speaking to the press afterwards, Wenger chuckled when asked whether this current crop could hold a candle to his vintage teams of years gone by.

"We have a long way to go," he smiled. Perhaps. But they are certainly on the right road. And if that's all then for now, that'll have to do.

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