Saints kicked off the New Year with a creditable draw against the Gunners at St Mary’s.
Both goals arrived in the first half of an entertaining contest as Nigel Adkins’ men moved out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
After a disjointed first half hour, Saints took the lead through Gaston Ramirez’s third goal of the season when he pounced on a melee inside the Arsenal area to lash home from ten yards out past Wojciech Szczesny.
The lead lasted only six minutes as Theo Walcott’s free-kick was unfortunately diverted past Artur Boruc via a cruel deflection off Guly, but despite the quickfire leveller, the game would see no further legitimate goals though both sides had the ball in the net with efforts that were ruled out by the officials.
A point lifts Saints up to 17th one place above Wigan with a game in hand, with the stalemate the third successive draw for Adkins’ side who have lost just twice in the last ten games heading into 2013.
Saints: Boruc, Cork, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Puncheon, S. Davis, Schneiderlin, Guly (De Ridder 83), Ramirez (Ward-Prowse 76), Lambert (Rodriguez 74). Subs (not used): K. Davis, Hooiveld, Richardson, Mayuka.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny,Gibbs, Wilshere, Arteta, Cazorla (Ramsey 74), Chamberlain (Gervinho 74), Walcott, Podolski (Giroud 58). Subs (not used): Martinez, Mertesacker, Rosicky, Coquelin.
Referee: Lee Probert
Attendance: 31,743 (including 3,141 away)
Artur Boruc made his third appearance of the season coming into the side at the expense of Kelvin Davis.
There were also returns to the team for Gaston Ramirez and Steven Davis form the team that started at Stoke, whilst Jack Cork deputised at right back in the continued absence of Nathaniel Clyne.
The club’s Honorary President was introduced to the crowd ahead of kick-off with Saints’ record appearance maker Terry Paine MBE receiving a warm welcome back to Southampton as he spoke of his delight on accepting the role.
Visitors Arsenal, in their changed strip of purple and black, got the game underway attacking the Chapel stand on a cool and clear evening inside St Mary’s.
The North Londoners wasted little time in getting at the hosts as they attempted to unsettle Saints early on with Boruc tested on a couple of occasions inside the first six minutes of play by a composed visiting team.
A clean take by the Polish stopper and throw out set the hosts on the way to their first attack of the game soon after, which resulted in a corner that Yoshida was unfortunate not to make more of.
The action settled into a pattern of counter-attacking football, with Saints looking more threatening on the break. A swift move forward involving Puncheon and Steven Davis almost paved the way for Lambert to get a shot in on goal, but an offside flag was harshly raised against the frontman.
Saints were happy to let Arsene Wenger’s men knock the ball around in their own half as the hosts bided their time against a visiting team that seemed happy to hold back for the time being.
Equally when the visitors did venture forward, Saints were resolute and stood up to the danger from either flank as Arsenal struggled to create opportunities.
After Ramirez had gone to ground trying to find a way through, Adkins’ men were looking the more assured of the two sides as they enjoyed a prolonged spell of possession, and that pressure led to the breakthrough goal on 34 minutes.
Morgan Schneiderlin intercepted an attempted clearance from the Gunners, and his pass into Lambert ricocheted off Bacary Sagna to Puncheon, whose blocked shot fell kindly to RAMIREZ who slammed home low past Szczesny for 1-0.
The Uruguayan continued to make a nuisance of the Arsenal backline by attacking the left flank with purpose, but the lead was to last only six minutes as the visitors levelled up form a set piece.
Walcott’s delivery from a free-kick on the left, was sliced past Boruc inadvertently by GULY as parity was restored five minutes before half time.
The Brazilian almost redeemed himself immediately when he collected a Ramirez pass inside the area, which he tried to turn back for Puncheon, but the Gunners were able to clear their lines before the winger could squeeze a shot in.
Walcott had the ball in the net late on in the half when he ran through to convert past Boruc, but an offside flag had already been raised, to deny the former Saints man a goal on his old stomping ground.
Half Time: Saints 1-1 Arsenal
Neither side made any changes at the break, with Saints starting on the front foot as they attacked with the Northam behind them for the second period.
Lambert headed a high Puncheon cross back across goal which came to nothing, but the amount of red shirts swarming the visitors’ area showed clear intent from Adkins’ men.
At the other end, Shaw outmuscled Chamberlain down the right flank as Arsenal attacked, whilst Cazorla and Podolski read each other wrong on the other side as Wenger’s men continued to find their feet in the second half.
A better response from Saints saw the hosts twice go close with tight offside calls against them before a well worked move out to Guly on the left saw the forward test Szczesny with a fierce drive towards the near post which the ‘keeper had to parry out for a corner.
The resulting set piece saw Saints go even closer when Guly’s swinging delivery rebounded off the knee of Sagna and fortunately for Arsenal into the hands of their grateful goalkeeper.
On 58 the Gunners switched Podolski for Olivier Giroud who scored twice in their last game three days ago.
But Saints remained in the ascendancy with Puncheon’s run and cross to Schneiderlin almost finding its way to Lambert who slipped as he tried to knock home a rebound from Szczesny’s block.
Schneiderlin went into the book for a foul on Cazorla on halfway, his fifth yellow of the season, but with the cut off for suspensions having passed at the turn of the year, the Frenchman faces no ban.
Again it was Saints who went close to retaking the lead, with Lambert’s elegant pass to Steven Davis creating the chance for Puncheon to fire low into the side netting at the far post, before Ramirez took aim with a high shot that narrowly cleared the top of Szczesny’s crossbar.
Ramirez was given another opportunity to take aim soon after from an ambitious looking free-kick over 30 yards out from goal, but the Uruguayan’s effort did cause Szczesny a nervous moment as he clambered to reach it.
Boruc held Sagna’s awkward cross on 67 and followed it up with ha decent stop to deny Walcott from distance soon after as Arsenal briefly came back into the game, but with 20 minutes still to play, the contest remained in the balance.
In the 71st minute Ramirez had the ball in the net after bringing down Davis’s cross to fire home inside the area, but play was called back for an alleged shove on Laurent Koscielny as Arsenal’s protests paid off.
Both teams made substitutions with Saints withdrawing Lambert for Rodriguez, prior to a double switch from the visitors with Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho introduced in place of Cazorla and Chamberlain.
Gaston Ramirez made way for James Ward-Prowse a couple of minutes later, with Saints continuing their pursuit of all three points with fresh legs in the final third.
As the last ten minutes approached Mikel Arteta unleashed a fierce drive which flashed wide of the right post as the Spaniard tried to smash home a clearance on the edge of the area, but although a heart stopping moment, the effort was never troubling Boruc.
Rodriguez looked to make further inroads to the Gunners backline, and the attacking force was further bolsted on 83 when Steve De Ridder came on for Guly.
Gervinho flashed a shot wide for Wenger’s side before Rodriguez headed into Szczesny’s arms at the other end. Then, Puncheon forced Arsenal’s Polish stopper into a fine low save from range.
Shortly after he’d been booked for a clumsy foul on Sagna, a De Ridder inspired attack found its way to Puncheon, who again tested Szczesny this time with a fierce rising effort that the ‘keeper pushed away impressively.
Late pressure from the visitors presented a case of déjà vu for Saints who withstood a heavy barrage at Stoke three days earlier, but terrific defending from Yoshida and Fonte ensured that the hosts went into three minutes of stoppage time still fighting for a victory.
No winner could be found though as a point got the New Year off to a positive start for Nigel Adkins’ side.
Full Time: Saints 1-1 Arsenal