Arsene Wenger considers Southampton genuine contenders for the top four this season and has praised opposite manager Ronald Koeman for start to life on the south coast.
Saints came unstuck at the weekend in the 3-0 defeat to Manchester City, but that loss does not reflect how successful their season has been so far, especially given the number of player departures in the summer as well as former manager Mauricio Pochettino.
They currently sit in third in the Premier League table, six points above the Gunners, and Wenger is fully aware of the threat they pose in tonight’s encounter at the Emirates Stadium.
“Ronald Koeman has done very well,” Wenger said in his programme notes ahead of the game. “He came without making too much noise and did the job. It is always tough facing him and certainly will be again this evening.
“This is a big game and an important one for us. We have an opportunity to show consistency in our results and of course we want to do that.
“If you look at the number of points Southampton have and the number of games they have played, you have to consider them as contenders for the top four. If they can maintain their run, they can challenge. We’ll know more about it in March. At Christmas last season, they were in a very strong position and the fact that they could renew that shows that they have stability in their performances.
“You have to consider the fact that they don’t play in Europe and that they can prepare well for every single game. That can be to their advantage.”
The match sees teenage defender Calum Chambers go up against his former side for the second time this season, having faced Saints in the 2-1 Capital One Cup defeat earlier this season.
Wenger went on to explain exactly what he saw when he first observed the 19-year-old play for Saints last season, and why he believes he will go on to become one of the leading defenders in the country.
“Calum Chambers has helped us clean back-to-back clean sheets [against Borussia Dortmund and West Brom],” Wenger added. “The first time I watched him was actually in our 2-2 draw against tonight’s opponents when we played them away last season.
“I was impressed by his understanding of the game and his interception qualities. As we as that, I liked the fact he was early on the ball. His reading of the game and his transition to quickly go forward also stood out, and his touch was good as well. I checked his birth date after the game and was very interested.”
Finally, Wenger confirmed that two long-term injuries are due to return to training next week to aid the Gunners campaign – one that has been hampered severely by player absence.
“Wojciech Szczesny is still out, but he could return at the end of the week,” confirmed the Frenchman. “Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina could also be back next week and Yaya Sanogo is alright now, all of which is good news.
“We are getting defenders back at the right time, with Mathieu and David being close and Laurent Koscielny returning to the team.”