Arsenal benefited from two own goals and saw unlikely centre-forward Gervinho score twice as they hammered Southampton 6-1 at Emirates Stadium to go joint third in the Premier League.
Gervinho had not scored in 2012 but produced one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt when filling in for Olivier Giroud in attack, the Ivorian scoring with a firm finish after 35 minutes and a close-range shot in the second half.
Southampton, bottom of the Premier League having now lost four from four, found themselves 4-1 down at half-time with Jos Hooiveld and Nathaniel Clyne putting the ball into their own net and Lukas Podolski continuing his quick acclimatisation to English football with a lovely free kick.
Wojciech Szczesny's awful error allowed Saints to pull one back just before the break but Gervinho's second of the game killed off any hopes of an unlikely comeback and Theo Walcott added a sixth against his former side with two minutes remaining.
Arsenal chose to drop summer signing Giroud to the bench but Arsene Wenger surprisingly opted to leave Podolski wide on the left as Gervinho was tasked with playing through the centre. It was a role the Ivorian adopted at times during pre-season but never looked truly comfortable in. Still, the tactical tweak worked perfectly in a first half that Arsenal dominated comprehensively.
Podolski in particular was in fine form. The summer acquisition from Cologne was using the ball well and linking up with Santi Cazorla impressively again, while his physical strength also unsettled a Southampton defence that had already conceded eight goals in three games prior to Saturday.
It was Podolski's power that helped Arsenal open the scoring after only 11 minutes. Having been knocked to ground, he got up and outmuscled two men to regain the ball and dinked a neat pass to the left to find Kieran Gibbs. The left-back opted to shoot from a tight angle and when the ball popped up off Kelvin Davis, the luckless Hooiveld got his legs in a mess and knocked it over the line for a rather comical own goal.
Podolski - scorer of 44 goals in 103 caps for Germany - has been signed for his final product but initially it was his build-up play that caught the eye, another neat pass through for Gervinho allowing the forward to win a corner with a deflected shot. Davis flapped at the delivery but then made a neat save when Francis Coquelin chipped the ball back into the box to meet the head of Per Mertesacker.
Cazorla was fantastic again after his influential performance in a 2-0 win at Liverpool last time out, his close control exceptional, and an exchange of passes with Podolski on 24 minutes preceded a ball out to Gibbs that allowed the defender to cross for Gervinho. The unlikely centre-forward headed over.
Arsenal's pressure was relentless and they doubled their lead after 31 minutes with the first of three goals in seven minutes. Steven Davis was guilty of a clumsy challenge on Coquelin and Podolski punished him with a superb curling free kick from 25 yards, though the Saints goalkeeper should have got closer to the attempt.
Four minutes later it was three. Mikel Arteta spotted a clever run from Gervinho as the Ivorian spun away from substitute Maya Yoshida, a replacement for Hooiveld who had succumbed to injury. All too often Gervinho has lacked composure in front of goal but he claimed his first goal of 2012 with a rasping finish at the near post.
Gervinho was also involved in the fourth, too. He sprayed the ball out wide to Gibbs, who provoked a second own goal of the game when his low cross was turned past Davis by Clyne. Southampton had been eviscerated, but they were gifted a goal of their own just before half-time when Szczesny was guilty of a horrible lapse and spilled the ball to Fox, who drove the ball home from eight yards.
Saints made a change at the break as Davis was removed from the centre of midfield and Gaston Ramirez, a £12 million club record signing from Bologna, was introduced for his debut. The Uruguayan almost made an immediate impact, a curling shot with his left boot forcing Szczesny into action.
Ramirez then had a sight of goal and while his shot was dragged right across the face of goal, it found Rickie Lambert arriving at the back post and as the striker slid in to meet the ball he only succeeded in turning it wide of the far post.
Southampton enjoyed a much-improved spell as they began to hit a passing rhythm but Arsenal wrestled control of the game once again on 71 minutes. Cazorla found substitute Aaron Ramsey with a glorious pass off the outside of his right boot and the Welshman held off Nathaniel Clyne to drive into the box and poke a shot past Davis. It came off the base of the post but Gervinho was on hand to tuck it away for his second of the afternoon.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain almost made it six soon after when seeing a thumping drive tipped wide by Davis, before Arsenal opted to give Podolski and Gervinho a rest, the goalscorers replaced by Theo Walcott and Giroud.
With two minutes remaining, Walcott had a goal against his former side. Thomas Vermaelen saw an initial shot saved by Davis after driving upfield but Cazorla produced a little touch off to Walcott as Southampton failed to clear and the England international tucked the ball home to round off a dominant display.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Gervinho - Arsenal: Tough to single out one player as Podolski was hugely influential in establishing Arsenal's early lead and Cazorla was as brilliant as ever, but purely for the fact that this was such a departure from the norm for Gervinho, he takes it.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 5, Jenkinson 6, Mertesacker 7, Vermaelen 6, Gibbs 8, Coquelin 6, Arteta 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Cazorla 8, Gervinho 9, Podolski 8. SUBS: Ramsey 6, Walcott 7, Giroud 6.
SOUTHAMPTON: Davis 5, Clyne 6, Hooiveld 4, Fonte 5, Fox 5, Schneiderlin 5, Davis 4, Ward-Prowse 6, Lallana 5, Puncheon 6, Lambert 5. SUBS: Yoshida 5, Ramirez 6, Rodriguez 5.
MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS
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