It is a MIRACLE that Arsenal's destiny remains in their hands after their collapse at Southampton

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The wheels have come loose at an inconvenient time for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta’s side are clunking into the home straight.

Now comes a fortnight that will define their hunt for Champions League football.

It is a small miracle that Arsenal remain within touching distance. Somehow, their destiny remains in their own hands. But for how much longer — a couple of days, perhaps? Certainly by Saturday, much of the fog will have cleared.

Arsenal have lost their last three games to see their case for the top four start to slip away

Arsenal have lost their last three games to see their case for the top four start to slip away

This defeat at Southampton, courtesy of Jan Bednarek’s goal, was Arsenal’s third in succession, their fourth in five games. Why has it gone wrong? 

‘We cannot say,’ midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga admitted. But even they must see the irony. This time last year, Arsenal were struck by a serious bout of delusion. For a few hours, they believed their future lay in some kind of Super League. Now they’re in relegation form.

Arsenal weren’t alone then. And fortunately for Arteta, neither Tottenham nor Manchester United are charging towards the top four, either.

If only there was a collective noun to describe these teams chasing Champions League football — a stumble, perhaps?

Mikel Arteta has a tough job on his hands trying to re-energise his team's pursuit of Spurs

Mikel Arteta has a tough job on his hands trying to re-energise his team’s pursuit of Spurs

Arsenal still sit only three points behind Spurs. United stand between the north London rivals, too. Arteta’s side have, though, played a game fewer than United and Spurs. And two fewer than the Hammers. Shame no freebies await. It is Chelsea away on Wednesday, then United on Saturday and West Ham on May 1.

Recent history does not augur well. Arsenal’s record this season against the rest of the top seven? Played eight, won two, lost six.

A pivotal period, then, in this side’s development and in the career of their manager.

So, how will he approach it? With his young side teetering, how can Arteta pick them up — carrot or stick? Hairdryer or hugs?

‘Give all the support in the world to them, because they need it,’ Arteta said. ‘They are 19, 20, 21 and that’s what they need.

‘We are in the same position we were, with one game in hand we have to play on Wednesday and we have to lift them up. The task is big. But the opportunity as well. It’s so precious that we are wanting to do it.

Fraser Forster pulled off a number of stunning saves to keep Arsenal at bay

Fraser Forster pulled off a number of stunning saves to keep Arsenal at bay

‘You have to win the matches. And if you want to be there, that has to be defined in the boxes.’

That is one area where Arsenal are struggling. Across their past three games, the Gunners have scored once — a deflected consolation against Brighton.

Either side of that? Clean sheets for Crystal Palace and a Southampton team who shipped six against Chelsea last week.

At St Mary’s, Arteta suggested it was ‘difficult to explain’ how Arsenal had not emerged with three points.

Albert Sambi Lokonga said scoring was the big thing Arsenal missed at Southampton

Albert Sambi Lokonga said scoring was the big thing Arsenal missed at Southampton

‘In any other sport you win the game very comfortably,’ he said. Arteta painted a picture of a siege and the stats (76 per cent possession, 23 shots to Southampton’s nine) point to Arsenal’s superiority.

For long periods, though, Southampton were not exactly hanging on. Yes, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side needed Fraser Forster to make several crucial saves. But Arsenal struggled to create gilt-edged chances.

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe missed the clearest of them.

‘(Scoring) was the big thing we were missing today because we had control,’ Lokonga said. That’s not necessarily an easy fix over a couple of days. Arteta suggested it was simply a case of luck turning; it would help if Alexandre Lacazette could make a quick recovery from Covid.

Against Southampton, Eddie Nketiah was handed a rare start and he showed flashes of promise. But his last league goal came a year ago today. Both he and Lacazette are out of contract this summer. Gabriel Martinelli has a solitary goal in 2022, Saka and Smith Rowe have 10 each for the season. No point wondering whether Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang might have been a useful option at this time.

‘We have to believe in each other, and we have to stay together,’ Lokonga said. ‘We have been through this at the start of the season, so we can do it again.’

Former Arsenal chief scout Steve Rowley has passed away aged 63 after a short illness. Rowley, who played a crucial part in the Gunners’ success under Arsene Wenger, spent almost 35 years with the club before departing in 2017. He first joined in the 1980s and worked with George Graham, identifying Tony Adams and Ray Parlour among others.

Player ratings 

Southampton (5-4-1): Forster 8, Walker-Peters 6.5, Valery 6.5, Lyanco 6.5, Bednarek 7, Perraud 6.5; S Armstrong 7 (Redmond 82min, 6), Ward-Prowse 6.5, Romeu 6.5, Elyounoussi 6.5 (Livramento 90, 6); Broja 6 (Long 74, 6.5). Scorer: Bednarek 44. Booked: Broja, Long. Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl 7.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Ramsdale 6.5; Cedric 6 (Smith Rowe 60, 6.5), White 5.5, Gabriel 5.5, Tavares 6 (Pepe 70, 6); Xhaka 6.5, Lokonga 5, Odegaard 6.5; Saka 6.5, Martinelli 6.5, Nketiah 6. Booked: White. Manager: Mikel Arteta 5

Referee: Peter Bankes 6.5. Attendance: 31,465.

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