The Barclays Premier League season took yet another twist as Southampton severely dented Arsenal’s title ambitions with a comprehensive 4-0 drubbing at St Mary’s.
A candidate for goal of the season from Curacao international Cuco Martina, two from man-of-the-match Shane Long and a Jose Fonte header gave the Saints their first win in seven games and denied Arsene Wenger’s side the opportunity to go top of the table after Leicester’s defeat earlier in the day.
The Gunners, who haven’t won at Southampton since 2003, rarely looked like ending that miserable run as they were outplayed by a far hungrier Saints side who won all the key battles on the night.
The result means that Arsenal stay second, two points behind Leicester, while Manchester City are now just a single point behind the Gunners in third.
Southampton were ahead on 19 minutes courtesy of a superb strike from Martina who latched onto a poor Per Mertesacker clearing header to send a superb 25-yard effort with the outside of his right foot beyond Petr Cech.
Steven Davis had an excellent chance to double the advantage on 25 minutes after an uncharacteristic error by Laurent Koscielny resulted in a shooting chance on the edge of the penalty area, but he missed his kick and the danger was cleared.
Former Southampton player Theo Walcott drew a save from Saints goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg after a good run saw him cut back in from the right before shooting from inside the area.
Walcott was inches off target when he was left unmarked at a corner, but his header brushed the side netting.
Long had a great chance to add a second when he latched onto Victor Wanyama’s through ball. The Republic of Ireland international outpaced Mertesacker to leave him one-on-one with Cech, but he could only lift the ball well over the crossbar as the goalkeeper raced off his line to narrow the angle.
Southampton continued to threaten after the break, with Virgil van Dijk having a headed effort ruled out for offside on 50 minutes.
But they didn’t have to wait long for their second goal as, five minutes later, Long fed Sadio Mane on the right and collected the return ten yards out to side-foot beyond Cech to make it 2-0.
The Arsenal defence claimed that Long had fouled Koscielny in the build-up, but referee Jon Moss wasn’t interested and the goal stood.
It was 3-0 on 69 minutes as Jose Fonte rose unmarked to head in Ryan Bertrand’s in-swinging corner with the Gunners defence static.
There was no way back for Arsenal as a day that began with talk of league titles ended with scenes of disconsolate fans making their way from the ground with more than 10 minutes left to play.
Perhaps it was for the best as they missed seeing Long, who moments earlier had hit the base of the post, get his second of the evening in injury time after he latched onto substitute Dusan Tadic’s through ball before shooting low past Cech to make it 4-0 and complete a comprehensive rout and put a gaping hole in Arsenal’s title ambitions.