Fresh from booking a place in Wembley in the English League Cup final, Southampton will welcome Arsenal to St. Mary’s Stadium Saturday for an FA Cup fourth round clash.
The Saints are on a five-match winning streak and are undefeated in their last six matches across all competitions. Claude Puel’s team has proved something of a giant killer in cup competitions this season, having knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup earlier this season and ousted Liverpool on their way to a final showdown with Manchester United.
But before that Southampton must contend with an Arsenal side that hasn’t lost since mid-December and is regarded as arguably, the biggest threat to Chelsea’s title contention.
The last time these two sides met, Arsenal lost 2-0 at home. But that was a significantly rotated side. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is likely to field a much stronger team on Saturday. Arsenal won back-to-back FA Cups in 2014 and 2015 and realistically, the Cup is the Gunners' most likely shot at silverware this season.
Arsenal will be without Granit Xhaka who is suspended for a red card incurred in last week’s win over Burnley. With Mohamed Elneny away on African Cup of Nations duty, Wenger will likely go with a midfield pairing of Aron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin.
The Frenchman is likely to rotate his squad somewhat with Danny Welbeck likely to get a start as striker.
Southampton will still be without star player Virgil Van Dijk, although against Liverpool, Jack Stephens proved an able understudy to the Dutchman at the heart of the Southampton defense.
With a showdown with Manchester United in the League Cup at Wembley already set, it’s not clear how great a priority Puel will make the FA Cup. But confidence is running high with this Southampton team after knocking Liverpool out of the Cup, despite missing Van Dijk and having lost captain Jose Fonte to West Ham.
Having already been knocked out of the League Cup by Southampton, Wenger will no doubt be wary of the threat posed by this fit and firing Saints side.Arsenal will have the benefit of not having played midweek, meaning the team that lines up Saturday will be rested and ready.
After being sent to the stands against Burnley on Sunday for berating an official, Wenger is still awaiting an FA decision that could see him banned for multiple matches.
Wenger is also sweating over Alexis Sanchez’s stalling on signing a new contract. While there might be a temptation to Sanchez, the Chilean is known to chomp at the bit when he is kept on the sidelines and that may further encourage Wenger to start him against Saints.
Despite Southampton’s confidence from beating Liverpool, Arsenal will likely go in with a slight edge having had nearly a full week to recover since beating Burnley in the Premier League last Sunday.
Watch Southampton vs. Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup this Saturday, January 28 at 12:30 p.m. EST on FS1.