Arsenal will travel to St. Mary’s Stadium on Saturday to take on Southampton in an all-Premier League fourth-round clash of the FA Cup.
The Gunners haven’t won away at Southampton since 2003, when a Robert Pires goal gave Arsene Wenger’s side a Premier League win (although that does include a seven-year period when they didn’t meet after the Saints had been relegated).
Claude Puel’s team also knocked Arsenal out of the EFL Cup back in November thanks to goals from Jordy Clasie and Ryan Bertrand. The Gunners will be looking to avenge that defeat in their bid for a record 13th FA Cup title.
Before Southampton take on Arsenal, they will face Liverpool in a crucial EFL Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday, where they hold a slender 1-0 advantage. Southampton qualified for the fourth round of the FA Cup by beating Norwich 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Shane Long, after the 2-2 draw in the third round replay at Carrow Road.
The Saints ended a four-game losing streak in the Premier League by comfortably beating Leicester City 3-0 at St Mary’s Stadium last Sunday, but the loss of captain Virgil van Dijk to injury left a sour taste. The Dutchman hobbled off in the 56th minute after attempting to play through a knock sustained in the second period, potentially leaving Claude Puel short of options at centre-back with Jose Fonte having completed his £8million switch to West Ham.
Van Dijk is a major doubt for this clash, but Steven Davis should return from a knee injury and replace Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in midfield. However, Puel will continue to be without the injured Jeremy Pied (knee), Matt Targett (hamstring), Sofiane Boufal (knee) and Charlie Austin (shoulder).
While Southampton have their issues in defence, their attack can cause Arsenal all kinds of problems with Long, Jay Rodriguez, Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic.
The Saints will face a tough test against Arsenal, but they’ll fancy their chances of causing an upset having beaten Wenger’s side in the last two meetings at St Mary’s, with an aggregate score of 6-0.
Arsenal needed a late Olivier Giroud goal to sneak past Preston in the third round, but would need to up their game to get past Southampton at St Mary’s. The Gunners extended their unbeaten run to six matches with a dramatic 2-1 win at home to Burnley last Sunday thanks to a last-gasp penalty winner from Alexis Sanchez.
Granit Xhaka picked up his second red card of the season and will serve a four-match ban, while Arsene Wenger is also likely to get a big punishment after he was charged by the FA with misconduct after appearing to push the fourth official during last weekend’s match.
Reports suggest Wenger could miss three games or more which would rule him out of Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Southampton, the home clash with Watford and then the crunch trip to leaders Chelsea on February 4.
Even with Wenger not on the touchline, Arsenal will be well prepared for a team that has given them some difficult matches in recent seasons. The Gunners needed a stoppage-time penalty winner from Santi Cazorla in September to give them a dramatic Premier League victory over a determined Southampton side. They know how tough they’ll have it, but with the likes of Sanchez, Giroud and Mesut Ozil, I think it will be harder for them to lose.
Forster; Cedric, Van Dijk, Yoshida, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis; Rodriguez, Tadic, Redmond; Long.
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Coquelin; Alexis, Ozil, Iwobi; Giroud.
Prediction: Arsenal (11/10)
It should be a tight affair at St. Mary’s, but I expect Southampton to struggle without Fonte and potentially Van Dijk. The defensive duo were key to the Saints taking points off Arsenal in recent meetings – without them, Puel’s side will find it very tough. The Gunners are my pick for this clash, get on.