Pires punishes Saints
December 29 , 2003
Arsenal 1 Southampton 0
Pires rounded off a slickly-worked move with a calm finish after he had been sent clear by Thierry Henry's pass.
Weakened by the absence of key players, Southampton struggled to make much headway against Arsenal's defence.
But the visitors' over-elaboration and Antti Niemi's heroics meant the Gunners were unable to add to their tally.
Pires' goal might have secured the points for Arsenal but it was Henry, recently voted the world's second best player, who consistently caught the eye with his breathtaking array of skills.
As well as creating the goal, he set up a good chance for Dennis Bergkamp and went close himself with a couple of long-range efforts.
Still unbeaten this season in the Premiership, Arsenal signalled their attacking ambition three times in the opening quarter of an hour as Patrick Vieira, Kolo Toure and Henry each carried the ball deep into the Southampton half.
Henry's run carried him to the edge of the Southampton penalty area, where he unleashed a fierce shot that was tipped over the bar by Niemi after being deflected off Fitz Hall.
Niemi had an outstanding game and produced the save of the match when he palmed Freddie Ljungberg's shot around the post.
Henry also displayed his ability to wreak havoc on the wing, cutting the ball back for Bergkamp, who fluffed his header.
But Henry's persistence was finally rewarded on 35 minutes when his superb pass picked out Pires, allowing his countryman to calmly side-foot the ball past Niemi.
In between trying to contain those Arsenal thrusts, Southampton's opportunities to attack were limited, although Kevin Phillips did manage to hold off Pascal Cygan and strike a shot that tested Jens Lehmann.
Just before the hour, the Southampton manager Gordon Strachan introduced Brett Ormerod and Darren Kenton, but the home side were unable to make much headway.
After the final whistle Lehmann threw the ball at Phillips, who had trodden on the German goalkeeper's foot earlier in the game.