SOUTHAMPTON, England -- Three observations from Arsenal's disappointing 2-2 draw at Southampton.
1. Should Arsenal make a last-minute purchase?
On a wet, windy winter night on the south coast, even the most square-jawed of heroes could look bedraggled. It wasn't the rain, though, that saw Olivier Giroud contrast so sharply with the spritely teenager Sam Gallagher -- more of whom below. The France centre-forward looked as listless and drained as he had in that post-match interview at Napoli in December when one wondered hard about his, and Arsenal's, ability to stay the course. His booking, for a late challenge on Morgan Schneiderlin, showed willing but reeked of tiredness. That was on the half-hour.
Yet if his desire to keep going is clear, so is his intelligence. His equalising goal at the dawn of the second half was a triumph of the latter attribute, deftly flicked home blind from Sagna’s cross after the right-back caught Jay Rodriguez sleeping. Later, with the scores level again, Giroud made a vital intervention at his own end to head away a goalbound Schneiderlin curler.
It was not until stoppage time that he was replaced by Lukas Podolski, and for all the voiced doubts about the German's ability to thrive in the central striker position -- despite enjoying his best season in club football in that very post with Cologne -- he will surely be given a go there sooner rather than later to ease the burden. At least, Podolski will be the stand-in if Arsene Wenger doesn't spend before Friday.
Arsenal's players couldn't have constructed a much better argument for late investment than their meek first-half display if they had tried, as a typically attractive Southampton ran the show. There was the defiance of potential champions at the beginning of the second half, when Giroud levelled and Mesut Ozil found Santi Cazorla on the edge on the area for the Spaniard to sneak a shot inside Boruc's far post. The creative pair had been equally mute for the majority of the contest, and the 42.5 million pound German's only other moment of note was nearly one for the ages, as he sped past a series of challenges with a dash incompatible with his general lethargy, before his shot deflected off Jose Fonte and onto the top of the crossbar.
Wenger will have to do without one of his most doughty lieutenants in the coming weeks too. Mathieu Flamini, who had made a big contribution to preventing Arsenal capsizing completely in the first half, showed us the excessive side of his commitment again as we entered the final ten minutes of the game, and was rightly sent off for an inexplicable two-footed lunge on Schneiderlin that was only ever going to produce one result. The Arsenal boss will perhaps echo Manuel Pellegrini's thoughts after Manchester City’s trip here -- that a point was good value for a limited performance against zesty opposition. Yet, this was a night to concern Arsenal fans fearing a late-season burnout.
2. Life without Pablo Daniel Osvaldo
On the last occasion this writer visited Southampton, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo was at his charging, piratical best, giving Manchester City the fright of their lives and pegging them back with a dazzling individual goal. Unfortunately, he has continued to produce exactly what it says on the Osvaldo tin -- fireworks for better or worse, with his reported training ground attack on teammate Fonte making his position in the dressing room seemingly untenable. A swift exit would be favoured by both player and club.
So, 18-year-old Gallagher made his first start in the absence of Rickie Lambert, recalling another Saints teenager to make his full debut against Arsenal -- Alan Shearer, who rattled a hat-trick past the Gunners in a 4-2 win at The Dell in spring 1988.
Gallagher could easily have followed in the England No.9's footsteps in a rampant Saints display. Luke Shaw delivered the first of a series of fine deliveries from the left in the 7th minute and the Scottish striker sent his prodded effort just wide of the near post. Soon after, the youngster speared in an angled drive that Wojciech Szczesny dived to beat out. Later in the half, Szczesny had another heart-in-mouth moment when he brought down Gallagher as the teenager went clean through, but the assistant's flag was already raised for offside.
Appropriately, Fonte gave the hosts a deserved lead midway through the first period when he beat Nacho Monreal to Shaw's back-post cross, and Szczesny's poor starting position betrayed him as he could only help the Portuguese's header into the back of the net. Facing the crowd, he beat his fist against the club badge to show his appreciation for recent local support. He nearly grabbed what would have been a deserved winner in the last few minutes by Szczesny's excellent low stop.
Having been a pest, Gallagher had missed the chance to dump Arsenal further in the mire in the 36th minute, when he screwed wide of a gaping target after Steven Davis charged down Monreal's careless clearance. Captain Adam Lallana was straight over to help the crestfallen Gallagher to his feet and give him an encouraging pat. He deserved it, as he did the warm ovation when he was replaced by James Ward-Prowse with twenty minutes to go. Mauricio Pochettino's resounding faith in his youngsters -- clear in his lingering hug for Gallagher after he was replaced -- means he may get further opportunities to stake his claim.
3. "Lallana, he's off to Brazil"
So sung the Saints fans from early on to warm the cockles, and it was hard to disagree. The skipper, a symbol of Southampton's continuing commitment to youth, was outstanding in a team full of high achievers. Few on the field were as deserving of the equaliser he gleefully plundered in the 54th minute to end Arsenal's brief lead, swept home from a Rodriguez delivery from the left.
Lallana's prompting and subtle change of pace are looking more and more like a necessity, rather than merely an option for England. His ability to cut in from the left and take defenders with him would be extremely useful in creating space for Leighton Baines or Ashley Cole to drive into.
Even if Katharina Liebherr's resolve to hold onto the club's star players were to weaken, there would be few bargain departures from St Mary's. Lallana leads the way, but in Schneiderlin and Shaw, it is also evident that Southampton are right to be ambitious with their star core.