A goal in either half from Olivier Giroud saw league leaders Arsenal inflict only a second defeat of the season on Southampton.
The Gunners’ French striker didn’t have to work too hard for his brace of goals, but his calmness in attack ensured that the hosts took full advantage of the gifts that came their way at the Emirates Stadium.
Having survived a couple of early warning signs, Saints shot themselves in the foot when a mistake from Artur Boruc inside his own area allowed Giroud to pounce for a tap-in that gave the home side a vital foothold going in at the break.
A harder fought second period, in which Saints tested Szczesny’s goal through Rodriguez and Lallana before unleashing Dani Osvaldo into the action, seemed to be working, until a late penalty decision against the visitors ensured that Arsenal took their chance to wrap up all three points.
Jose Fonte’s tug on Per Mertesacker gave Giroud the opportunity to grab his second goal of the game, which he duly obliged to end Saints’ eight game unbeaten run in the Barclays Premier League.
It was only the third time that Saints had failed to score in a match this season, whilst the 26 year run without success at Arsenal was prolonged a little further.
Ahead of the game, Mauricio Pochettino was without both Dejan Lovren and Kelvin Davis as the duo joined Jack Cork and Guly do Prado on the sidelines, whilst Gaston Ramirez was not considered after his late arrival back from Uruguay.
Jos Hooiveld was therefore restored to the starting line-up in central defence for his first appearance in the league this season. The team was otherwise unchanged from the one that beat Hull City a fortnight ago.
Paulo Gazzaniga, Maya Yoshida, Steven Davis, and Dani Osvaldo were amongst the Saints substitutes alongside the teenage trio of Calum Chambers, midfielder Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher.
Saints’ three England representatives: Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana, and Rickie Lambert led the line fresh from playing for their country over the past fortnight.
Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes due to traffic problems in the local area, but once that hold up had passed, Arsenal got the game underway on a clear and chilly afternoon inside the Emirates Stadium.
The visitors lined up in their changed strip of black shirts and white shorts, and made a composed start to the contest as they looked for some early openings in the Gunners’ half.
Adam Lallana won a third minute free-kick just inside the halfway line for Saints when he was shoved to ground, which gave James Ward-Prowse an early opportunity to find his range with a cross that was defended well by the hosts.
The corner pocket of Southampton supporters provided a lively atmosphere for their team as they looked to rouse their side, knowing that a victory could put Saints top of the Premier League.
The visitors showed their discipline to defend in numbers against the first onslaught from Arsenal, but were nearly undone in the eleventh minute, when Jack Wilshere advanced down the right side of the area before chipping an impeccable effort over the advancing Artur Boruc, which thankfully came back off the post and into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Unmoved by that near miss, Saints attempted to impose their pressing style on the hosts, with Rodriguez and Lallana causing a couple of nervous moments between Wojciech Szczesny and Per Mertesacker who had quickly learned that a patient approach from the back might not work against the visitors.
Arsenal came back again to show their class though and a 17th minute cross from Mesut Ozil was delightfully back-heeled towards the bottom right corner of Boruc’s goal, only for the ball to fortunately bounce back off the post and into the ‘keeper’s arms again.
A brief stoppage ensued whilst Wilshere received treatment following a foul by Wanyama, as the hosts found their rhythm broken up by a resolute Saints side.
That was, until the 22nd minute when a pass back to Boruc turned sour as the ‘keeper dallied over his clearance which allowed Olivier GIROUD to pounce as his persistence told on the Pole who slipped to allow the French striker to capitalise for a tap-in that made it 1-0.
Saints responded well by winning two corners in the space of a minute that tested the Gunners’ resolve, as they remained firmly in the contest, with no signs of them being overpowered by Arsenal.
Further pressure from the visitors led to another couple of corners before a Ward-Prowse free-kick led to the first effort on target from Saints on the half hour as the ball fell to Lallana from a clearance, and his dipping volley from inside the area saw Szczesny at full stretch to tip the ball over the bar.
Inside the last ten minutes of the half, Saints came back at the Gunners, and again worked Szczesny when Rodriguez and Ward-Prowse linked up neatly down the left flank with a one-two that saw the latter return to the striker whose inventive volley from his own tee up forced the Arsenal stopper into a one handed save at his left post.
Lambert attempted to knock home the rebound, but was in an offside position as he tried to turn the ball back in from an acute angle.
Having successfully pinned the hosts back, Saints looked comfortable heading towards the interval, but were given a brief scare when Morgan Schneiderlin took a blow to the head in the closing stages of the half.
The Frenchman was fine to carry on, and aside from a booking for Hooiveld after a foul on Giroud, there was little else of note in the three minutes of stoppage time.
The one-goal deficit going into the break meant Saints were still in the game, but you sensed they would need to keep it tight for as long as possible in the second 45 in order to take anything from the match.
HALF-TIME: ARSENAL 1-0 SOUTHAMPTON
Saints made a change at the break with Steven Davis replacing Luke Shaw. That meant Nathaniel Clyne moved to left back, with Ward-Prowse dropping to the right side of defence so that Davis could take up an advanced midfield role.
The visitors got off to the sort of start they would have hoped for as they continued to take the game to their opponents.
A fantastic break that started from Ward-Prowse, led to Schneiderlin bursting through on goal before cleverly laying the ball into the path of Lallana, whose fierce shot was well-held by Szczesny.
Rodriguez then struck a shot from range that deflected out of play via Lallana, which proved to be the last touch of the action for the skipper who was replaced by Dani Osvaldo in the 54th minute.
Lallana had missed part of training in the week, with the move appearing to be a tactical one form the manager.
A midfield battle followed as both teams began to sense that the next goal would be vital in the contest, and with Saints pushing, Arsenal almost profited when Ward-Prowse and Davis were caught high up the pitch which allowed Gibbs to try and slide a ball into Giroud, but fortunately Fonte was there to intercept the danger.
Özil tested Boruc with a shot from inside the area after cutting in on the right side of the area, but with 25 minutes remaining, Saints were still very much in the game.
A header from Jack Wilshere was comfortably gathered by Boruc before Arsenal introduced former Saints man Theo Walcott in place of Cazorla with 20 minutes to play, giving the visitors a fresh threat to keep quiet.
A second substitution followed for the Gunners with Mikel Arteta replaced by Tomas Rosicky in the 74th minute, but still it was Saints who looked more likely to strike next.
Osvaldo worked his way through a wall of bodies before firing a low shot down the throat of Szczesny, who watched the strike from the moment it left the Italian’s boot.
More pressure from the visitors resulted in Wanyama and Clyne combining to find Rodriguez who in turn, provided Lambert with a shooting opportunity inside the area, but the striker’s shot was deflected out for a corner.
The resulting set-piece was cleared only as far as Wanyama, whose terrific shot just cleared the bar.
Rodriguez displayed his attacking intent again with a fantastic run through Arsenal’s last line, only for a slide challenge by Mertesacker to prevent him from a getting a shot away.
On 82 minutes the Gunners made their third change with Özil going off and Nacho Monreal coming on in his place for the remainder of the contest.
The match was effectively over when referee Mark Clattenburg awarded a harsh looking penalty against Jose Fonte for a tug on Mertesacker’s shirt inside the area when defending a corner.
GIROUD stepped up from 12 yards to seal the win for Arsenal with a spot-kick that sent Boruc the wrong way on 85 minutes.
A further four minutes were added on for stoppages at the end of the game, during which time, Osvaldo had a possible claim for a penalty turned down when he tried to squirm his way through the Arsenal backline, but despite a spirited end to the contest, Saints took nothing out of the game.
FULL-TIME: ARSENAL 2-0 SOUTHAMPTON
Arsenal team: Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta (Tomas Rosicky 74), Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Özil (Nacho Monreal 82), Santi Cazorla (Theo Walcott 70), Olivier Giroud
Unused substitutes: Lukasz Fabianski, Thomas Vermaelen, Serge Gnabry, Nicklas Bendtner
Goals: Giroud, 22 & 85 (pen)
Southampton team: Artur Boruc, Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte, Jos Hooiveld, Luke Shaw (Steven Davis 46), Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin, James Ward-Prowse, Adam Lallana (c) (Dani Osvaldo 54), Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert
Unused substitutes: Paulo Gazzaniga, Maya Yoshida, Calum Chambers, Harrison Reed, Sam Gallagher
Referee: Mark Clattenburg