Arsenal bounced back from defeat at Old Trafford with a commanding home performance against this year's surprise package. Southampton went into the match ahead in third place and with spirits high, but they were outclassed on all fronts by the Gunners at the Emirates, losing 2-0 and never really threatening to get a result.
More from our team sites
It didn't take long for Arsenal to begin knocking on the door, and the visitors were more than a little bit lucky to emerge from the first half only 1-0 down. Jack Wilshere was denied a beautiful goal by Artur Boruc's right hand post, the midfielder squeezing an exquisite chip past the goalkeeper from an impossible angle before hitting the woodwork, the rebound cannoning back into Boruc's arms.
Arsenal was foiled by that same post shortly thereafter. Mesut Ozil had been given far too much space by Luke Shaw, who was suffering from an hamstring problem*, and that gave the former Real Madrid man all the time he needed to send a driven cross towards Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey reacted a little late, but improvised brilliantly, letting the ball roll between his legs before producing a backheel flick which beat Boruc but hit the post and went wide.
*Said hamstring problem would force him off at halftime.
Those two chances came to nothing, but the Gunners went ahead in the 22nd minute thanks to a goalkeeping howler. Boruc dawdled on the ball, inviting pressure from Olivier Giroud. He then dawdled further, spinning around like an idiot as the striker sniffed around menacingly. After Boruc missed his fourth opportunity to whack the ball clear, it was pretty obvious what was about to happen. And sure enough, he eventually coughed up possession, allowing Giroud to slot into an empty net.
Boruc looked as though he was trying to think of a way to die on the spot; his teammates looked as though they'd have quite happily helped. But they made good use of that anger, pushing forward and finally putting some pressure on Wojciech Szczesny's goal.The Arsenal keeper was forced into a pair of saves as the second half drew to a close. Adam Lallana met a botched clearance from Mikel Arteta with a volley that Szczesny pushed over, and then Jay Rodriguez drew a top-class stop after bringing the ball down with his chest and stabbing towards the bottom corner.
The hosts seemed quite happy to hold the ball and soak up whatever Southampton cared to throw at them. And after that first half flurry, there simply didn't seem to be much in the tank. The Saints were disappointing, even after they swapped Adam Lallana for Pablo Osvaldo and went to 4-4-2, and despite the score remaining 1-0 for most of the match, it only ever looked as though there would be one winner.
Arsenal were finally able to kill off the match with five minutes to go. Per Mertesacker went up for a corner kick, Jose Fonte grabbed his shirt, and Mark Clattenburg immediately pointed to the spot, allowing Giroud to lash home the penalty for his second of the game. An equaliser looked like a long shot at 1-0; it was an impossibility at 2-0.
With Liverpool drawing against Everton earlier in the day, Arsenal's lead at the top of the table has been extended to four points. It really could be their year.
Arsenal starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna; Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta; Santi Cazorla (Theo Walcott 70'), Mesut Ozil (Nacho Monreal 81'), Aaron Ramsey; Olivier Giroud.
Goals: Giroud 22', 86' (p).
Southampton starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Artur Boruc; Luke Shaw (Steven Davies 45'), Jos Hooiveld, Jose Fonte, Nathaniel Clyne; Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama; Adam Lallana (Pablo Osvaldo 54'), Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse; Rickie Lambert.