We are back in FA Cup action against Southampton on Saturday and ahead of the game, Chris Harris sat down with Arsene Wenger to preview the match.
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BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Overslept? Train delayed? Motorway snarled up? It’s OK - there’s never been a better time to turn up late for our matches.
We’ve been saving our best till last since our six-game unbeaten streak started on Boxing Day. Five wins and a draw have realised 14 goals - 12 of which were scored in the second half.
Alexis’ panenka penalty - delivered with ice-cool nonchalance in the 98th minute against Burnley - is just the latest of our late goals. According to Arsene Wenger there’s a link between this trend, our fitness and our flair, but he doesn’t mind when we score as long as we win.
“It matters when we score for my health, yes, but for the end result it doesn’t matter too much,” he told Arsenal Player. “As long as you win the games.
“The trend is linked with fitness and style of play, but the Burnley result was linked with resilience and mental desire. The focus on what you want to do is not enough, so everything has to be right and it all has to click.
|Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris), Xhaka (suspended), Elneny (international duty)
Southampton: Rodriguez, Van Dijk, Hesketh (all ankle), Ward-Prowse (chest), Boufal, Pied (both knee), Austin (shoulder), McCarthy, Targett (hamstring)
“It’s true that there’s a relentless attitude in the team, of strength and belief. Maybe the fact that we know we can score great goals means we keep going. Against Burnley we found the resources to score another goal, and for us it was a massive game because we knew we had an opportunity [to go second].
“What’s very important is the players who come on off the bench. We say that a lot, that we are a whole squad, we are not just 11 players. Maybe that’s been justified more than ever this season because the players who have come on have made a huge contribution every time and we have a quality bench as well. Their attitude is right.”
Our fans might get away with turning up late for Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup tie, but the players won’t.
Preston couldn’t quite punish us for a sluggish start in the third round but a Southampton side that has just secured one Wembley trip surely won’t be as forgiving.
“We had a difficult start at Preston and I think we have learnt from that,” said Wenger. “Southampton are on a high because they just qualified in the League Cup at Liverpool. So we are warned, and some players who come in will need to be on the front foot from the start on.”
BACK-UP FOR XHAKA
Santi Cazorla is the only member of our squad not fit enough to take part in full training. And yet we go into a decisive run of fixtures with a sparse midfield.
With Cazorla injured, Granit Xhaka banned for four games and Mohamed Elneny at the Africa Cup of Nations, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey could resume their partnership in the centre. But if Wenger opts for rotation, what are his back-up options?
“After [Coquelin and Ramsey], we have Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Alex Iwobi can play in there although he’s not a defensive specialist,” said the boss. “Those are the options we have.”
Xhaka’s had better weeks but Wenger has sympathy for him. Patrick Vieira springs to mind when you think of signings that needed rough edges smoothing over, and the boss will find a way to mould Xhaka without nullifying his strengths.
“Tackling is not the first quality of Xhaka,” said Wenger. “But he looks more dangerous than he is. That’s why he maybe has to stay on his feet more or improve the quality of his tackling, because you want the right commitment and you want the right level of winning the ball
“He has to realise what has changed in the last five or six years. Tackling from the front is severely punished now, much more than before. Unfortunately for us it’s a severe blow because we don’t have Mohamed Elneny at the moment, and now we don’t have Xhaka on top of that.
We’ve not played Southampton in the cup since beating them in the 2003 final in Cardiff.
That was our third consecutive showpiece at the Millennium Stadium and, although it wasn’t a classic, Robert Pires scored from close range to help us retain the trophy we’d won against Chelsea the previous year.
|We've progressed from 16 of our 20 FA Cup fourth-round ties under Arsene Wenger
We've won our last five away FA Cup matches - but we've never won six consecutively in the competition’s history
Since Christmas we've gone six games unbeaten in all competitions (W5 D1)
Ironically we played a lot better in the 2001 final but had the cup snatched away from us by Michael Owen and Liverpool. A reminder that, in this competition, you just need to get the job done.
“I remember 2003, it was 1-0 with a Pires goal and a great save from David Seaman [from Brett Ormerod],” said Wenger. “It was a tough game.
“I think two weeks before the final, we played them in the Premier League and won 6-1. Pennant scored three goals, so everybody expected us to have an easy final, but a final is never easy. On the day we just did what was necessary but it was still a great win.
“Southampton are on a high,” added the boss. “They produced a fantastic performance against Liverpool [in the EFL Cup semi-final], so overall that makes the game even more interesting and more difficult as well.
“They are not short of confidence at the moment and will certainly have a big support, but it’s an FA Cup game and we want to qualify.”
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