Following their morale-boosting victory at Anfield in midweek, Southampton will be full of confidence when they host the Gunners in Saturday’s evening kick-off at St. Mary’s.
The sides have already met on two occasions this term, both of which were played in north London. During the Premier League clash, a late penalty from Santi Cazorla sealed all three points during a hard-fought win for the hosts but Claude Puel’s side exacted sweet revenge during their 2-0 EFL Cup quarter-final victory on the eve of December.
Arsenal are on a six-match unbeaten run and will be eager to extend it, although it’ll definitely be a tough challenge.
Arsène Wenger had praise for today’s opposition whilst confirming team news updates during Thursday’s presser.
“Southampton are on a high, a fantastic performance last night and it makes it more difficult and interesting,” Wenger said.
In terms of squad rotation, he also confirmed the fact that only “one or two” young players will be involved, but no more than that. That’s important to understand because it proves he’s eager to put out a strong side, something significantly different to the EFL Cup squad .
“We have [Theo] Walcott who is back in the squad. The good news is that Mertesacker and Debuchy are back in full training from tomorrow,” Wenger confirmed.
Granit Xhaka has been in the headlines this week after his needless sending off against Burnley, as well as an alleged incident which occurred at Heathrow Airport just 24 hours post-match.
The boss, who himself has been punished with a four-match touchline ban as well as a £25k fine for his conduct in the latter stages of our last-gasp win on Sunday afternoon, did well to publicly defend the Swiss midfielder.
“He has a fantastic attitude since he arrived here – on a daily basis. He’s been marvellous to handle – commitment, focus, dedication.”
However, he admitted his main concern is the 24-year-old’s tackling technique as opposed to the decision-making that has seen him dismissed on two occasions since arriving from Germany last summer.
Right-backs Mathieu Debuchy and Carl Jenkinson are both expected to depart at some stage in the coming week, with the latter reportedly stalling on personal terms ahead of a proposed switch to Crystal Palace.
Wenger had this to say about Debuchy’s future, “Gabriel has been impressing on the right flank, so I don’t close the door [on him leaving].”
It’s expected that a number of players who haven’t had much first-team minutes, such as Lucas Perez and Danny Welbeck, will be afforded starting berths from the offset on the south Coast.
Kieran Gibbs (knock) returned to the matchday squad against Burnley but didn’t feature, so the 27-year-old will probably be preferred to Nacho Monreal for his first start of 2017.
David Ospina should start as he did against Preston North End in the previous round, whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles could play once more ahead of first-choice Hector Bellerín after an impressive display against the Championship outfit earlier this month.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Gibbs, Mustafi, Holding, Maitland-Niles; Coquelin, Ramsey; Lucas, Ox, Iwobi; Welbeck.
Puel will be cautious not to make too many changes to the side that performed well and earned a deserved victory over Liverpool on Wednesday evening.
Virgil van Dijk (ankle), Sofiane Boufal (knee) and Steven Davis (knock) are all doubts to feature – key players who could all make a difference against Arsenal, but they’ve got plenty of quality within their side to shut out their visitors today.
Oriol Romeu has been in fantastic form recently and continues to showcase his dominant displays from a deep midfield position, whilst Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic are just two of the side’s bonafide gamechangers.
Possible XI (4-3-3): Forster; Cedric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand; Romeu, Hojberg, Ward-Prowse; Tadic, Redmond, Rodriguez.
If Arsenal don’t start in meaningful fashion, their place in this season’s FA Cup could be over before it’s really begun.