Arsène Wenger has hailed the “absolutely tremendous” progress Southampton have made in recent seasons.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are third in the Premier League and have the best defensive record in the top flight, having conceded just five goals.

Wenger acknowledges that there is unlikely to be a repeat of last season’s game at Emirates Stadium, when the Gunners won 6-1.

There was something in there that was special and they had that spirit and quality that will keep them in the Premier League

Arsène Wenger

“On the day they looked like candidates to be relegated but when we played over there [at St Mary’s Stadium] we had a difficult 1-1 and you could see already that this team would not go down,” he said.

“There was something in there that was special and they had that spirit and quality that will keep them in the Premier League.

“But if you look at the quality of their work and the players they have today in the national team, plus the potential players that could go in the national team - plus the fact that we have Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott here - it shows you the quality of work they have done. It's absolutely tremendous what they have achieved.”

Wenger expects a tough test from the Saints, and says they could be surprise contenders for a Champions League place.

“You cannot rule anybody out,” he said. “If they can keep the defensive record they have then they can be very ambitious.

“The team plays together now for a long time. They have a very good defensive record, they have the best defence in the league. That is the best basis to be consistent.”

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source Rob Kelly 22 Nov 2013