When Arsenal could rely on the Saints to lift their spirits

With a couple of exceptions, Southampton were rather obliging opponents for Arsenal during the 1990s. The Saints were often the perfect opponents - either when individual players were looking to make a mark, or when the team needed a result. Perhaps it was an elaborate repayment plan to thank Arsenal for playing a back three of Nigel Winterburn, Kenny Sansom and Gus Caesar at Southampton in April 1988, thus presenting Alan Shearer with a hat-trick on his full league debut?
In 1990, Arsenal were reeling from their two point deduction following the Old Trafford brawl, and needed a positive response. They thrashed Southampton 4-0 at Highbury, in a defiant performance that united the players and fans. George Graham forged a siege mentality and team spirit, which saw Arsenal convincingly win their second championship in three years, losing only one league match all season.

Arsenal were unable to retain their title the following season, but played some lovely attacking football, and Southampton helped provide new signing Ian Wright with two landmark moments. First, Wright helped himself to a magnificent hat-trick on his league debut at The Dell in September 1991.

Then, on the final day of the season, and the last day of the old North Bank at Highbury before it’s replacement with an all seater stand, Wright pipped Gary Lineker to the Golden Boot in the closing moments of the match, completing another hat-trick and helping Arsenal to a 5-1 win.
Southampton got some sort of revenge with a 2-0 home win the following season, but lost a 4-3 thriller at Highbury – allowing Jimmy Carter his only two league goals for Arsenal.

Wright bagged another hat-trick against the Saints at the Dell in 1994; they were surely sick of the sight of him by this point. A year later, Southampton visited Highbury when Dennis Bergkamp was still looking for his first Arsenal goals, and of course he got off the mark. Two fine strikes eased the criticism Bergkamp had started to receive from some elements of the press, who were starting to question his £7.5 million price tag.

Bergkamp and Wright left Southampton alone in 1996/97, but the Saints let young Arsenal hopeful Paul Shaw score his only two goals for the Gunners, one to seal a 3-1 home win, and the other the second in a 2-0 win at The Dell.

Bergkamp was back to torment The Saints again the following season. He scored two brilliant goals at The Dell in a 3-1 win, one of which made the top three Match of the Day ‘goals of the month’ as the Dutchman famously grabbed all three spots.
There was one last significant contribution to Arsenal history before the end of the 90s. Thierry Henry, under similar pressure to Bergkamp in 1995, broke his Arsenal duck with a wonderful goal in a 1-0 win, in September 1999.

Arsenal’s dominance in this fixture wore off a bit in the 2000s, suffering a couple of horrible 3-2 defeats at The Dell and then St Mary’s, but May 2003 brought more Arsenal joy. Hat-tricks for both Robert Pires and Jermaine Pennant (the latter’s only goals for the Gunners) gave Arsenal a 6-1 home win in the league, then Pires’ goal won the FA Cup ten days later at the Millennium Stadium.

See also:
Top ten Arsenal vintage Christmas gift ideas
Ten of the best Ian Wright goals for Arsenal