Arsenal's mini-revival was brought to a halt at Southampton on New Year's Day as they were fortunate to take a point in a 1-1 draw at St Mary's.
A 7-3 victory at home to Newcastle was the London club's fourth win in succession, but dynamism was replaced by disappointment for the trip to the South Coast as they had only one shot on target against Nigel Adkins's side.
Even the equaliser, coming six minutes after Gaston Ramirez punished some abject defending, was an own goal, Guly Do Prado poking the ball into his own net from a Theo Walcott free-kick.
This was a return to the poor form and characterless performances that marred Arsenal's November, with a draw putting the Gunners five points behind third-placed Tottenham and four behind Chelsea, having played more games than both of their London rivals.
Southampton, though, enjoyed an impressive start to the year to lift themselves out of the relegation zone.
Arsenal were unchanged, so Walcott was again stationed as a central striker having scored four goals and claimed two assists in the three games since being rewarded with the positional switch he craved. He came up against goalkeeper Artur Boruc, restored to the starting XI for the first time since October in one of three changes for the home side.
The Polish keeper was a bundle of nerves in the opening minutes as he flapped at a Jack Wilshere corner and then fumbled a cross from Bacary Sagna. Curiously, though, Arsenal failed to put him under renewed pressure in an insipid period of play that contrasted markedly with the rampant manner in which they concluded their victory over Newcastle on December 29.
Neutered in attack, they also looked vulnerable at the back and could have given away a penalty after only eight minutes when Thomas Vermaelen kicked Maya Yoshida from behind and caught him in a sensitive area.
Arsenal were caught out on 35 minutes, though. After Lukas Podolski gave away possession with a sloppy pass, Sagna made a horrendous mess of an attempted clearance when he poked the ball straight to Guly and although the forward was tackled by Kieran Gibbs, the ball rolled out to Ramirez who stroked his shot past Wojciech Szczesny.
Without mustering as much as a solitary shot on target in the first half, Arsenal were hugely fortunate to be level by half-time as Guly tried to cut out an inswinging free-kick from Walcott and only managed to poke the ball inside the near post and past Boruc. It was undue reward for a desperately poor 45 minutes.
Southampton resumed the more lively side and Guly forced Szczesny into a dramatic diving save as he turned his thunderous shot from 20 yards round the post. From the resulting corner, the ball struck Sagna on the knee and almost crept over the line, but for a fine reaction stop from the Arsenal keeper.
With Walcott unable to offer more than a weak shot at goal after cutting onto his right foot, his fourth go at being a striker was deemed a failure and Arsene Wenger introduced Olivier Giroud for the poor Podolski, Walcott reverting to his more conventional position on the right of the three-man attack.
It was from this area of the pitch that Walcott mustered Arsenal's first shot on target after a full 70 minutes, but within minutes they could have been behind. Ramirez took the ball on his chest expertly 10 yards out, span and fired a volley past Szczesny, only to be punished for a push on Koscielny.
Arsenal threw on Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho as they pushed for a winner, and after one rather comical episode when he tripped over himself, the latter did go close late on when jinking onto his right and slamming a low shot into the side netting.
Southampton almost secured the victory their performance deserved when Jason Puncheon found space in the box and drilled his effort too close to Szczesny, but they had to make do with a point as they escaped the relegation zone.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Maya Yoshida (Southampton) - The entire Southampton back four were in expert form, but Yoshida was the pick of the bunch as he put in a resolute performance.
Southampton: Boruc 5, Cork 8, Yoshida 8, Fonte 7, Shaw 8, Schneiderlin 7, Davis 6, Guly 6, Ramirez 7, Puncheon 6, Lambert 6. Subs: Rodriguez 6, Ward-Prowse 6, De Ridder 6.
Arsenal: Szczesny 6, Sagna 5, Koscielny 6, Vermaelen 6, Gibbs 6, Arteta 6, Wilshere 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 5, Cazorla 6, Podolski 5, Walcott 5. Subs: Giroud 6, Gervinho 6, Ramsey 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Theo Walcott
- Maya Yoshida