Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger insists his side have consigned their wobbles to the pages of history and are intent on chasing down what had appeared an unlikely Champions League place after victory over Southampton.
Second-half goals from Alexis Sanchez and substitute Olivier Giroud boosted the Gunners’ top-four hopes as well as ending a run of five winless Premier League matches at the St Mary’s Stadium – claiming their first top-flight success there since December 2003.
Victory moved Arsenal above Manchester United into fifth place in the Premier League, three points adrift of Manchester City in fourth and four behind Liverpool, over whom they hold a game in hand.
The win was the north London outfit’s fourth in five top-flight matches, a far cry from a run of form earlier in the year which saw them chalk up just four triumphs, two against non-league opponents, in 12 across all competitions.
“I never questioned the character of my side,” said Wenger. “We went through a bad patch. It’s a good opportunity to show your character, how you come back and how you recover.
“Maybe the City game [FA Cup semi-final] gave us confidence. Let’s not go too quickly to conclusions, and focus and give everything at Stoke on Saturday. We know we can only win our games, and we had a strong performance on Sunday [against Manchester United] and a strong performance today, so let’s just continue.”
Wenger was quick to praise the contribution of Sanchez, whose contract at the club expires in 2018, leaving his future at Emirates Stadium unclear.
“That’s Alexis,” added the Frenchman, who saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leave the field with a hamstring problem. “He’s a player who never gives up, and he’s always tricky to stop.”
It was Sanchez who opened the scoring on the hour mark, twisting and turning through the Southampton defence before slotting past Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster – his 20th league strike of the season.
Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie are the only other Arsenal players to score 20 Premier League goals in a season, while the Chile forward has now scored more away from home this term – 14 – than any other top-flight player.
He was only on the pitch a matter of moments but Giroud headed home an Aaron Ramsey centre to settle matters on 83 minutes, his sixth league goal as a substitute this season and the 100th European top-flight strike of his career.