Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Arsenal thumps on Southampton

PREMIER LEAGUE The Gunners appeared to take out their frustrations on the haplass Saints just days after Arsenal gave up the league title to Manchester United

AP , LONDON

Arsenal's Robert Pires, right, fights for the ball with Southampton's Anders Svensson during their English FA Premiership match at Highbury in London on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Three days after losing the league championship to Manchester United, Arsenal took it out on Southampton on Wednesday, Robert Pires and Jermaine Pennant each scoring hat-tricks in a 6-1 crushing of the team the Gunners are to meet in the FA Cup final.

Arsene Wenger's team raced into a 5-0 lead in the first 25 minutes at Highbury to give the Saints a taste of what they will get when the two clubs meet at the Millennium Stadium May 17.

"This does give the players some regrets as they feel that, had they won the game against Leeds [which they lost 3-2], we would be champions on Sunday night.

"We have done a lot for our goal difference tonight and I'm convinced that had we beaten Leeds, we would have won the championship.

"This was a little illustration of our season. The team were very creative, very positive and played some fantastic football," Wenger said.

"But we also lacked a bit of security defensively and that's what we want to improve next season.''

Saints manager Gordon Strachan was horrified by the way his midfield and defense allowed Arsenal so much room.

"I've never witnessed goals like that in my life, with quite literally no tackling on that pitch whatsoever,'' he said.

"That needs to get sorted out, which we think that we can, but once we went 2-0 down, the players went into shock."

Pires hit the first after nine minutes by firing home after Saints goalkeeper Paul Jones had blocked a shot from Ray Parlour.

Pennant, who can't play in the cup final because he went on loan to Watford and helped the division one team reach the semifinal, hit the second seven minutes later from a pass by Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

The young midfielder scored the third with a 20th minute tap in when a deflected shot from Thierry Henry was parried by Jones.

Three minutes later Henry provided the pass for Pires to race through and fire between Jones and his near post. And the French striker, who has tormented the Saints defense, set up the fifth for Pennant to fire home.

Strachan's team hit back before half time and Jo Tessem stroked home a leftwing cross from Wayne Bridge.

But it was 6-1 just two minutes into the second half when Pires saw Jones off his line and lobbed an angled lob from 40m over the 'keeper's head.

The result and performance will lift some of the gloom over Highbury after Arsenal surrendered its league title to Manchester United on Sunday.

Wenger's team was eight points ahead of its big rival nine weeks ago but Alex Ferguson's men wiped that out to move eight clear with a game to spare.

Wednesday's game was a catchup match but it only cut United's lead to five ahead of the final round of matches on Sunday.

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