LONDON: Arsenal’s push to win the Premier League title for the first time in 12 years suffered a setback as Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster produced a magnificent display in Tuesday’s (Wednesday in Manila) 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger’s side dropped to fourth place following their fourth successive league game without a win and they now lie five points behind leaders Leicester.
It was a frustrating evening for Wenger as Forster made a string of fine stops that enabled Saints manager Ronald Koeman to continue his excellent sequence of results against the Gunners boss.
Forster only recently returned to first-team action for Southampton after a 10-month layoff with a horror knee injury sustained against Burnley last March.
The 27-year-old has kept four clean sheets in his four matches and this was the best yet.
For Koeman, the stalemate showed once again that he has worked out how to frustrate Wenger with his tactics.
In five matches against Arsenal since taking over at Saints, Koeman has enjoyed three victories, savored three clean-sheets, and experienced just the one defeat.
Though Arsenal struggled to find any fluency or rhythm in the opening exchanges, evidence of their ability to stretch a defense in an instant came in the 12th minute.
Alexis Sanchez, making his first Premier League for two months after returning from a hamstring injury, pinpointed the run of Mesut Ozil from the halfway line.
The pass over the Southampton defense was deftly controlled on Ozil’s left foot, stopping it dead in midair, but the eventual shot lacked the power to trouble Forster.
Forster was to deny Ozil again eight minutes later with an example of sheer strength and athleticism.
Olivier Giroud headed down a cross from the right by Hector Bellerin and Ozil skipped in front of the defense, beating the offside trap, to knock it goalbound.
Yet the strong left hand of Forster managed to divert the ball away for a corner.
In the second half, it remained the Forster Show as he made several stops and blocks to thwart the Gunners’ attack.
His right hand pushed a curling effort from Giroud over the crossbar on 47 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, he impressively saved twice from Theo Walcott; the first time with his feet, then with his palms when the Arsenal substitute seemed odds-on to score.
Later on, he scrambled across his goal to push wide a Sanchez effort for a corner. Sadio Mane lacked the cutting edge to trouble Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech.