Southampton host Arsenal in the biggest fixture of round 4 of the 2016/17 season’s FA Cup.
Despite their mediocre finishes in the Premier League, North London giants Arsenal have always managed to have a marked improvement in the FA Cup – the oldest club competition in the world.
In the last three seasons, the Gunners have lifted the elusive cup on two occasions and will be looking to make it three from four campaigns if they are to go the distance this time around. Their form has been a tad erratic, so Southampton could be optimistic of their chances going into this fourth-round fixture.
The Saints are on a bit of a roll of late and the mood in the dressing room appears to be spirited despite the loss of captain Jose Fonte. Southampton recently pulled off a miraculous upset in the EFL Cup – beating giants Liverpool by a 1-0 scoreline in both legs.
A game against Arsenal could prove to be a similar challenge for a resolute Saints outfit. Manager Claude Puel has shaped his squad up to be a competitive unit after he struggled to pick up points in the initial stages of the campaign.
Thus, this game has the making of an even encounter, and both teams are likely to go for the kill in order to secure a berth into the next round of the FA Cup.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will serve out the first of his four-match touchline ban against Southampton, with assistant coach Steve Bould expected to shout out orders for a crucial cup encounter.
However, Wenger will be naming the starting eleven and is expected to field a slightly weakened side as he will be looking to keep his players fresh for the league. David Ospina is likely to be given the nod ahead of number one Petr Cech.
In defence, Hector Bellerin could make a start hoping to fight off the lack of match sharpness due to a recent injury, and will be joined by Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel Paulista and Kieran Gibbs.
Due to Granit Xhaka’s suspension and Santi Cazorla’s long-term injury layoff, Francis Coquelin is expected to partner Aaron Ramsey to form a pivot in the middle of the park. Down the flanks, Alexis Sanchez should probably be given a breather and Lucas Perez might be the man to come in for the Chilean.
Olivier Giroud has started in the last few games, but Danny Welbeck’s return from injury sees him in line to make his first start of the season. The Englishman has shown tremendous promise when fit, and Wenger will be hoping to get the most of his prolific talisman.
For the hosts, Sam McQueen and Cuco Martina are likely to be given the nod at full-back, while Jack Stephens is expected to come in for the injured Virgil van Dijk.
In midfield, Jordy Clasie along with Pierre Hojbjerg and Harrison Reed, will be looking the pull the strings. Dusan Tadic and Josh Sims are expected to give width to the Saints attack with Shane Long leading the line.
- Southampton have kept clean sheets in four of their last five games against Arsenal in all competitions.
- They have never beaten Arsenal in an FA Cup tie (semi-final in 1926/27, sixth round in 1978/79 and the final in 2002/03).
- This is the first FA Cup meeting between Arsenal and Southampton since the 2003 final, which the Gunners won 1-0 courtesy of a Robert Pires goal.
- The Saints could become the first side to knock Arsenal out of both domestic cups in the same season since Manchester United in 1982/83.
- Arsenal have progressed from 16 of their 20 FA Cup fourth round ties under Arsene Wenger, losing only to Leeds (1996/97), Leicester (1999/2000), Bolton (2005/06) and Stoke (2009/10)
- Gunners have won their last five away FA Cup matches in a row – they have never won six consecutively in the competition’s history.
- After losing back-to-back games against Everton and Man City, the Gunners have since gone six games unbeaten in all competitions (W5 D1)
Southampton 1-2 Arsenal
Arsenal have not enjoyed the best of runs against the Saints in recent matches, but that could change come Saturday. With both managers set to tinker their respective lineups, the fans may be in for an unpredictable ninety minutes.
It may even come down to substitutions, and in that department, Arsenal possess more quality than Southampton which could do a lot to define the outcome of the game. Wenger is known to make pragmatic changes, and could wing in something similar to ensure progression for his side, despite his touchline absence.