London (AFP) – Arsene Wenger hailed Danny Welbeck’s return to form as his double inspired Arsenal to a bad-tempered 3-2 victory over Southampton on Sunday that saw both sides reduced to 10 men.
England World Cup hopeful Welbeck also made Arsenal’s other goal for Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang as the Gunners fought off a spirited challenge from the Saints, who remain in the Premier League relegation zone.
Southampton’s Jack Stephens was sent off in stoppage time for a clash with Gunners substitute Jack Wilshere — who should also have been dismissed according to Southampton manager Mark Hughes.
Arsenal did finish with 10 men when Mohamed Elneny saw red for a hand in the face of Cedric Soares, but Wenger believed the game should be remembered most for Welbeck’s first Premier League goals since September last year.
Welbeck, whose Arsenal career has been dogged by injury problems, shrugged off missing a glorious chance seconds before he headed home the winner nine minutes from time.
“I’m pleased for him because he has been through difficult times,” Wenger said. “I have seen him behave (well) when it was really tough so he deserves everything he gets.
“He had every reason to feel sorry for himself, to think the mountain was too big to climb, because it was the right knee, then the left knee and a year out every time.
“People were questioning whether he would come back and I believe what he has done is exceptional.”
Welbeck will be hoping a late-season revival increases his chances of making England’s World Cup squad.
“I’m happy with the assist and glad to get the goals,” he said. “I know when I get the opportunities in front of goal I will put them away — apart from the one I put over!
“I thought I would get another opportunity to get a winner and I kept focused on that. The World Cup will take care of itself — I don’t pick the team.”
The game ended petulantly when Stephens threw Wilshere to the ground after the Arsenal substitute had ripped his shirt.
Elneny then saw red for a hand in Cedric Soares’ face straight after, but Hughes was convinced referee Andre Marriner should also have dismissed Wilshere.
“I saw a definite movement with his knee towards Jack (Stephens),” said Hughes. “The referee should have seen that and sent both off.
“Elneny has raised a hand to Cedric’s face — that’s a sending off clearly. So maybe there should have been three.”
Southampton remain three points adrift of safety but this was a much better performance than Hughes’ first Premier League game in charge — a 3-0 defeat at West Ham.
Shane Long took advantage of a comical mix-up between Petr Cech and Shkodran Mustafi to put the visitors in front early on.
And they were well worth their equaliser when Charlie Austin came off the bench to level at 2-2 17 minutes from time before Welbeck’s late winner.
“It was a good performance and a marked contrast to West Ham,” added Hughes. “The only criticism is that when you get back on level terms you need to have the clarity of thought to make sure you take something out of the game.
“It was clearly encouraging in terms of what we need to do to get out of this situation. Clearly we have got talented players, you saw that today.”