Gary Lim: Saints mean serious business in top-four battle
(Sadio Mane 34, Dusan Tadic 56)
They fought, they hustled and they wouldn't give up.
They played with a brand of football so fluid and entertaining that it's impossible not to like.
Last night, Southampton reminded Arsenal that the fight for fourth place is very real.
With a sublime first-half goal by Sadio Mane and a strike by Dusan Tadic after the break, the Saints beat the Gunners 2-0 at St Mary's Stadium.
With an accomplished display from back to front, they fired a stern warning to all rivals eyeing that coveted fourth position they currently sit on.
Past the halfway mark of the English Premier League season, they still cling on to the final Champions League spot that guarantees a mini jackpot.
The Saints provide a superb feel-good story in an age where the underdogs face seemingly impossible odds against the traditional powerhouses.
What makes their achievement even more remarkable is how they coped, despite the exodus of their best players during pre-season.
Centre back Jose Fonte showed his Arsenal counterparts a masterclass in the art of defending with poise and intelligence.
Midfielder Mane and striker Graziano Pelle are fine examples of how astute scouting can compensate for a lack of financial resources.
Playmaker Tadic delivered another classy display and, at the same time, demonstrated his appetite for the big occasion.
Unheralded goalkeeper Fraser Forster continues to impress.
The juxtaposition was unfortunate for Arsenal's custodian Wojciech Szczesny, who had a torrid outing that promises recurring nightmares.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger cut an irritable figure in the dug-out, and one suspects Szczesny was the main source of his agony.
Shambolic defending on Arsenal's part was at fault for the opening goal, and Szczesny would shoulder much of the blame.
In the 34th minute, Mane easily outmuscled centre back Laurent Koscielny as they chased down a ball over the top of the backline.
Szczesny, who had recklessly sprinted out of his goal, had to do a U-turn but there was nothing he could do to stop the Senagalese from curling the ball into the net from an acute angle.
The second half produced another moment of comic defending and, again, it was at the expense of the Gunners.
Mathieu Debuchy stopped Steven Davis' cross but, when the ball stopped in front of Szczesny, the goalkeeper panicked.
His feeble and hurried clearance reached only as far as Tadic, who forced the ball home to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
It could have been worse for Wenger's men.
Moments later, Pelle struck a shot against the upright. Later on, he also had a shot cleared off the line.
The expected Arsenal fightback never materialised.
Southampton finished off the game with a measure of composure and comfort that belied their underdog status, and clinched their first league win over Arsenal in over 12 years.
The Saints had thrown down the gauntlet. And they are looking good. Really good.