Super-sub Giroud earns Arsenal a point with late equaliser

Charlie Austin had put Southampton ahead in the third minute but it didn’t prove to be the winner.

Olivier Giroud headed in a delicious Alexis Sanchez free-kick to help Arsenal leave St Mary's with a point.   -  Action Images via Reuters

Olivier Giroud proved to be Arsenal's super-sub once again as he rescued a point for his team two minutes from time at Southampton.

Charlie Austin fired an early opener for Mauricio Pellegrino's team – his fifth in three Premier League starts this season – and the striker was unlucky not to have more to show for the palpable sense of panic he and the Southampton attack injected into a shambling Arsenal backline.

Match centre: As it happened

Arsene Wenger's men recovered their poise and some swashbuckling attacking play as they sought an equaliser before half-time made for a captivating contest.

But France striker Alexandre Lacazette could not claim the goal his endeavours deserved and it was left to his compatriot Giroud – a man, like Austin not too well-versed in starting games this term – to avert a sixth Premier League loss of the season for the Gunners.

There was a certain inevitability as the 31-year-old rose to expertly direct Alexis Sanchez's floated cross beyond Fraser Forster for a seventh goal in all competitions this term.

Giroud now has 17 Premier League substitute goals to his name, the same number as similarly famed game-changers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Nwankwo Kanu. Only Jermain Defoe has more.

There were plenty of empty seats in evidence at St Mary's after some supporters fought a losing battle with the snow that swept the south of England on Sunday and Arsenal was caught cold inside three minutes.

Per Mertesacker, making only his fourth Premier League start of the season, cleared the ball straight to Dusan Tadic and his slip when trying to remedy the situation allowed Austin space to control the Serbian playmaker's chipped pass and steer an unerring finish past Petr Cech.

Veteran goalkeeper Cech stood firm when Austin got in behind Nacho Monreal two minutes later and, although an offside flag was raised when the ex-Burnley man headed against the post in the seventh minute, it was further evidence of a wretched defensive start from the visitors.

It was left to Lacazette to spark Arsenal as an attacking force, spinning to craft a chance on the end of Aaron Ramsey's looping header but scuffing a shot too close to Forster in the Southampton goal.

Lacazette and Mesut Ozil were guilty of overplaying their hand with a one-two at the end of a lightning break, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg scrambling back to avert the danger.

Forster got down to his left superbly to deny Ramsey from Ozil's cutback to the edge of the area, while Lacazette shanked wildly over towards the end of a breathless first half.

A combination of Jack Stephens and James Ward-Prowse was required to halt the rampaging Sead Kolasinac early in the second half as Southampton's defending took on an increasingly desperate feel.

Nathan Redmond tested Cech from long range but that foray allowed the Gunners to counter, with Lacazette's outstretched boot just missing contact on a low Ramsey shot which flashed across goal.

As the hour passed, there was a sense Saints had weathered a storm and Oriol Romeu almost doubled their lead spectacularly – cracking a long-range effort against the crossbar that Cech helplessly waved on its way.

Lacazette made way for Giroud, who was bafflingly starved of service before his deft late intervention.

This result meant Arsenal missed out on the opportunity to replace Liverpool in the top four before Sunday's Merseyside derby, while Southampton would have been glad of a greater cushion between itself and the bottom three than the five points it now enjoys.

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