Saints started 2015 with a bang thanks to a 2-0 win over Arsenal at St Mary’s.
Goals in either half from Sadio Mané and Dušan Tadić were the difference as Ronald Koeman’s men opened up a three point gap on the Gunners with a significant New Year’s Day victory.
Having edged a tight opening to the game, Saints took a 34th minute lead through Sadio Mané’s improvised finish from an acute angle when he produced a clever strike from outside of the area which he chipped into the net for a first half lead.
Fraser Forster made a fine save to deny Tomas Rosicky ten minutes into the second 45, and shortly after that, Saints sealed their first win of the year when Tadić finished at the far post from Szczesny’s weak clearance.
It could have been more for the hosts, with Graziano Pellè having an effort cleared from the line by Mathieu Debuchy, but the two goals were enough for Saints, who made it a fourth match unbeaten with a thoroughly deserved victory.
Saints made three changes to the team that started the draw against Chelsea with Florin Gardos, Ryan Bertrand and James Ward-Prowse all coming into the side.
Morgan Schneiderlin was absent through suspension after picking up a one match ban with a red card in the draw with Chelsea, while Nathaniel Clyne remained sidelined by injury.
The visitors got the game under way with Saints defending the Chapel stand on a wet and windy afternoon inside St Mary’s, and with both teams taking the opportunity to use the opening exchanges for acclimatisation, it was a cagey start to the action.
Saints stepped up a gear in the seventh minute when Dušan Tadić’s lofted cross over from the left flank was headed onto the base of the post by Graziano Pellè.
A minute later, Ryan Bertrand’s low cross was touched on by Pellè at the near post which almost wrong-footed Wojciech Szczesny, with the Pole’s save doing enough to put off Mané on the follow up.
Arsenal came back into it with Mathieu Debuchy firing in a shot at Forster, which Cazorla followed suit with on 20 minutes
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain skewed an awkward to control strike high and wide, with clear chances remaining at a premium until Saints opened the scoring on 34 minutes.
A chipped ball forward by James Ward-Prowse was chased down by Sadio Mané, who beat the advancing Szczesny to it just outside of the area, where from an acute angle the Sengalese forward then proceeded to clip the ball into the net from the touchline.
The ball crossed the line despite Per Mertesacker’s best attempts to clear it off the line for Mané’s third goal in as many games.
Mané wouldn’t complete the half as he succumbed to an injury shortly after the goal, though he was on the pitch to almost help Saints double their lead before the break when Ward-Prowse’s shot from Mané’s low cross was saved well by Szczesny. From the follow up Alderweireld volleyed the ball over the bar on the rebound from close range with Saints looking good value for their lead at the interval.
Arsenal fired a warning on 55 minutes when Oxlade-Chamberlain’s low cross to the far post found Tomas Rosicky, who a hit a powerful effort through a crowd of bodies which Fraser Forster made a fine save from to deny the winger.
It would prove pivotal as a minute later, Saints made it 2-0. Terrific work by Steven Davis on the right saw him control a loose ball which he then drilled across the area, where Debuchy sliced a clearance against Szczesny. The goalkeeper’s attempt to put the ball out of danger arrived straight at the feet of Tadić who gleefully poked home at the far post for 2-0.
Tadić even went close to making it three moments later, when he curled a shot on the turn wide as Saints threatened to run riot.
On the hour mark, Arsenal introduced one former Saint in place of another with Theo Walcott in place of Calum Chambers, but still the hosts kept the pressure on.
Pellè hit the base of the post from a near post assist by Bertrand, on the follow up Ward-Prowse struck the ball over the top right corner, before Arsenal were saved again on 65 when Debuchy made a goal line clearance to deny Pellè arriving onto a fine piece of play from Tadić who had robbed Szczesny of possession inside the area.
On 67 Gardos was booked for foul on Sanchez just outside the area, but the former Barcelona man who has made a habit of scoring from that position this season, couldn’t put his effort on target this time around.
Three minutes later, Ward-Prowse tested Szczesny with a looping header from Tadić’s crafty assist on the left, with the action continuing to move from end-to-end in a pulsating second period.
Both teams made one final roll of the dice with Shane Long coming on for Saints and Chuba Akpom replacing Debuchy for the visitors, but it was too little, too late for Arsenal, who were beaten by Saints as Ronald Koeman’s men avenged their 1-0 defeat at Emirates Stadium last month.
Southampton team: Fraser Forster, Toby Alderweireld, José Fonte (c), Florin Gardos (Maya Yoshida 71), Ryan Bertrand, Victor Wanyama, Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse, Dušan Tadić (Shane Long 85), Sadio Mané (Harrison Reed 42), Graziano Pellè
Unused substitutes: Kelvin Davis (GK), Lloyd Isgrove, Jason McCarthy, Matt Targett
Booked: Wanyama (23), Gardos (67)
Goals: Mané (34), Tadić (56)
Arsenal team: Wojciech Szczesny, Mathieu Debuchy (Chuba Akpom 85), Per Mertesacker (c), Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs, Santi Cazorla, Calum Chambers (Theo Walcott 60), Tomas Rosicky, Francis Coquelin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis Sanchez.
Unused substitutes: Emiliano Martinez (GK), Nacho Monreal, Joel Campbell, Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Booked: Coquelin (75)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Attendance: 31,492 (including 3,215 away fans)