After being commended for their surge up the Premier League table in the first quarter of the season, Ronald Koeman’s Southampton are already being associated with decline as they travel to North London to face Arsenal on Wednesday evening.
The Saints were relegation favourites in pre-season discussions, having lost a chunk of their spine to teams that finished above them last season, but have performed extremely well to perch themselves at third spot in the table behind Chelsea and Manchester City ahead of the trip to the Emirates Stadium.
However, after being thumped 3-0 by 10-man City on the weekend, and with Arsenal and Manchester United coming up next, the Saints face an uphill task to reinforce their top-four credentials ahead of what promises to be a testing week.
“We have 26 points and that’s not changing my opinion after yesterday,” Koeman said in his pre-match press conference on Monday. “We know our qualities and we know our weakness.”
Koeman said he was disappointed with the two goals his side conceded even after City were reduced to 10 men in the second half. “It was not normal because we haven’t conceded a lot of goals and we haven’t made many mistakes. Then we have to give a good reaction about that,” he said.
Asked whether the Saints have the mentality to achieve a top-four finish, Koeman said the club and the players don’t have the experience like some of the bigger teams, but he isn’t complaining.
“The club likes to be in the position where we are and everybody likes to keep that position,” he said. “That’s difficult, because we have different players. We have younger players and we don’t have that experience.
“That’s always important to be on the top and we like to be like that and we work for that, to say one day we will be with the big teams, but it’s a long way to go.”
“I think we have a fantastic spirit in the team. We have very good professional players. They know exactly what they have to do to be a good professional but we have to learn; we have to learn from the mistakes of yesterday.”
Koeman’s counterpart for Wednesday, Arsene Wenger, believes Southampton are genuine top-four contenders. “If you look at their number of points and the number of games they have played, you have to consider them [for the top-four], yes. If they can maintain their run, yes. We’ll know more about it in March.
“You have to consider the fact that they don’t play in Europe, so they can prepare well for every single game. That, of course, can be to their advantage.”
Following his side’s 1-0 win over West Brom on the weekend, a win for Arsenal on Wednesday would make it three on the trot, which would ease some pressure on the Frenchman after consecutive losses against Swansea and Manchester United last month. “It’s a big game and an opportunity to show consistency in our results,” said Wenger.
Speaking of Arsenal’s injury concerns, Wenger said that goalkeepers Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina, and defender Mathieu Debuchy are out, while there are still questions over the fitness of midfielder Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and left-backs Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs. “I’m hoping that one of Gibbs or Monreal will be available,” said Wenger.
As for the Saints, Koeman revealed that French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who limped out of Sunday’s defeat, is not ready for Arsenal, along with James Ward-Prowse. However, Jack Cork, who did not play against City, would be available on Wednesday.
Koeman’s side were victors in the last meeting between the two sides in September in the Capital One Cup. “We had a fantastic game in the League Cup that we won. That gives us confidence, but to play and to win against that kind of team you have to be good.
Koeman warned his team against complacency, especially after Sunday’s result. “We made too many mistakes and if you make those kinds of mistakes you can’t win against top teams.”
Featured image courtesy: Ronnie Macdonald (Creative Commons)