Arsenal just about do enough
Following the signings of Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi, plus a comfortable victory away to Watford, Arsenal entered the international break with their morale higher than they would have expected it to be a week prior to the fortnight without club football. Arsene Wenger's side's next task would be to see off Southampton at home. With the Saints still searching for their first win of the season, only three points would be acceptable for the Gunners as they looked to continue to raise the feel-good factor around the Emirates Stadium.
However, it was the visitors who began the encounter the brighter. Dusan Tadic, fresh off netting in midweek for his country Serbia, was denied a good sight of goal by the linesman's flag, with the attacking-midfielder being ruled just offside in the opening minutes. The 27-year-old was in the thick of the action again just moments later fizzing in a cross from the right-hand side, only for Jay Rodriguez, back in the Southampton starting XI after another injury-filled year, heading well over.
Despite this, it didn't take the Gunners long to launch their first attack of note. Just before the 10-minute mark, Mesut Ozil seemed to have the goal at his mercy following a skewed shot across goal, but his lacklustre control prevented him from getting a shot away.
Just as the game seemed to be settling down and Arsenal began to slide into their classic passing rhythm, slick interchange down the left-wing led to Nathan Redmond receiving the ball in a central position, and being brought down just outside the penalty area by a forceful Nacho Monreal challenge. The free-kick was given, and it was no surprise to see Tadic, after his impressive start to the game, produce a moment of magic from the dead-ball situation, albeit with a large chunk of good fortune. His whipped shot was tipped onto bar by Petr Cech, before rebounding of the back of the Arsenal keeper and trickling into the net, ensuring Southampton had the lead just before midway in the first half.
The game only seemed to open up further following the deadlock being broken, and it was the Saints who nearly doubled their lead, with Redmond forcing a desperate block from Francois Coquelin. However, the ball was cleared and, within seconds, it was Claude Puel's team who had all hands on deck at the back, as the resulting counter-attack led to an Arsenal corner. What followed was one of the best goals of the season so far, and it came from a superb piece of skill from centre-back Laurent Koscielny. Cazorla's pinpoint delivery could not be cleared, and the Frenchman Koscielny took charge, powering the ball emphatically past Fraser Forster with a spectacular overhead kick on the half hour.
Southampton would probably have not been too wrong in thinking that the eqauliser had come a little against the run of play, but Koscielny's party piece seemed to significantly alter the balance of the match, as Arsenal began to dominate possession thereafter. Yet even though they began to look more comfortable by the minute, the hosts couldn't fashion anything better than half chances before half-time, and the sides went in level at the break.
The second period started as the first ended, as Arsenal resumed their pursuit of the lead. Ozil's control once again let him down as he wasted another good opportunity, before debutante Lucas Perez forced a fine sliding block out of Ryan Bertrand. A few minutes later, a fierce low shot from Hector Bellerin whistled past Forster's right post.
Arsenal were the nearly punished for their lack efficiency with just over 20 minutes to go, as Saints substitute Shane Long found himself clean through on goal. His delicate chip beat Cech, but also drifted across the goal and well wide.
After a brief quiet spell, Arsenal once again were left tearing their hair out in frustration. Southampton centre-back Virgil Van Dijk's awful pass went straight to Arsenal feet, and the ball was slotted into the path of Alexis Sanchez, but Van Dijk made up for his mistake, getting in the way of the Chilean's effort. Yet another last-ditch intervention from the visitors thwarted an effort from Monreal soon after.
As the game entered its closing stages, both sides blew great opportunities, with Long again fluffing his lines with the goal at his mercy, before Olivier Giroud headed a Cazorla cross into the side netting.
With just injury time to play, it looked as if the spoils were to be shared, but as Arsenal launched rolled the dice for one of the last times in their search for the winner, there was a final moment of controversial drama. After Arsenal won the ball back through what looked like a foul on Long, the ball was hit forward. Jose Fonte and Giroud were tussling with each other inside the box, and Southampton's captain was adjudged by referee Bobby Madley to have brought the Arsenal striker down, and a penalty was awarded.
After a long delay filled with Southampton protests after the questionable call from Madley Cazorla, the picture of calm, stroked the ball straight down the middle of the goal, securing Arsenal the victory.
This will be a bitter pill to swallow for Southampton after a spirited showing away from home, but although their showing was arguably enough for at least a point, they will be left wondering what might have been after missing a number of good chances to win the game themselves.
Arsenal on the other hand, will be both ecstatic and relieved to have snatched maximum points from an even contest, stringing together back-to-back wins in the process.
All the talk after the game though, will on that very debatable penalty decision at the death.