Can the Gunners halt the Saints march in the FA Cup?

Southampton host Arsenal in the FA Cup 4th round, at St Mary’s this evening (5.30pm kick-off UK time).

A place in the last 16 of the FA Cup is the prize for the winner of the tie.

The Saints go into the match on a high after reaching the EFL Cup final on Wednesday.

It will be Southampton’s first League Cup final since they lost to Nottingham Forest in 1979.

They beat Liverpool 2-0 on aggregate in the two-legged semi-final. Following up a 1-0 win in the first leg at St Mary’s, with another 1-0 victory in the second leg at Anfield on Wednesday night.

The Saints had knocked the Gunners out of the competition at the quarter-final stage, with a 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium on 30th November 2016.

Arsenal will want to avoid a double cup exit at the hands of Southampton this season. If they do lose it will be the first time they have been knocked out of both domestic cups by the same team since Manchester United in 1982/83.

It’s been quite a week so far for Southampton, with rumours that a Chinese consortium are about to invest £200million into the club.

Saints secured their passage into the FA Cup fourth round after a replay win over Norwich City. Shane Long struck in the 92nd minute for Southampton in a 1-0 victory over the Canaries at St Mary’s.

They go into today’s match on a run of four successive wins in a competitions. Southampton have also kept clean sheets in four of their last five games against Arsenal in all competitions.

Arsenal had to come from behind to beat Preston North End at Deepdale to reach this stage of the competition. Olivier Giroud’s late goal securing a 2-1 win.

The Gunners have won their last five away FA Cup matches in a row – they have never won six consecutively in the competition’s history.

Arsenal have progressed from 16 of their 20 FA Cup Fourth Round ties under Arsene Wenger, losing only to Leeds (1996/97), Leicester (1999/2000), Bolton (2005/06) and Stoke (2009/10).

The Gunners also go into the match on the back of an improved run of form. After losing back-to-back games against Everton and Manchester City in December, Arsenal have since gone six games unbeaten in all competitions (W5 D1).

Head-to-Head

This is the first FA Cup meeting between Arsenal and Southampton since the 2003 final, which the Gunners won 1-0 courtesy of a Robert Pires goal.

Southampton have never beaten Arsenal in an FA Cup tie (Semi-final in 1926/27, Sixth Round in 1978/79 and the final in 2002/03).

Key Men

Southampton

Nathan Redmond is emerging as a key attacking force for the Saints. He has benefited from the sale of Sadio Mane to claim a regular starter this season. Redmond scored the only goal of the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final at St Mary’s.

Shane Long has three goals in the last four weeks, and will hope to get the chance to add to his tally against Arsenal, who he netted twice against when the teams met at St Mary’s in the Premier League last term.

Fraser Forster has now established himself in the full England squad as back-up to Joe Hart. An imposing figure in the Saints goal, he has kept 13 clean sheets in the 31 matches in all competitions this season.

Arsenal

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott will both hope to start against their former side.

It has been another frustrating season for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has spent much of his time on the bench or recovering from niggling injuries.

Walcott made an encouraging start to the season and has eleven goals in competitions so far this term. But he has not played since being injured in the defeat against Manchester City in December.

The Managers

Claude Puel was managed by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger at Monaco.

Claude Puel

“I have a lot of respect for my former trainer (Arsene Wenger). It will be a pleasure to see him again.

It’s important to keep our focus about the next game. We have no time to take pleasure from it (reaching the EFL Cup final after the semi-final victory over Liverpool).

It was fantastic for all the squad. It’s a great moment to reach Wembley.

We have played three games more than Arsenal in January, but we’ve got to try to make a good game and take a good result.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger will serve the first of his four-match touchline ban today for his sending off against Burnley on Sunday. Speaking before the announcement of his ban, Wenger said.

“Southampton are on a high (after their EFL Cup semi-final win at Liverpool this week that sends them through to final at Wembley). They produced a fantastic performance at Liverpool, 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.

They are certainly a football club who have done one of the best jobs in producing young players, on keeping the quality high despite losing big players. Overall, I think they’ve done a remarkable job, because they were punished quite harshly because they went down to League One, but they came up and since they’ve produced consistent results and quality games. I think it is a club where you can say ‘really well done’ because what they’ve done is remarkable.”

On whether the Saints can continue to produce young players, Wenger added. “I think they have the quality to do that. When you look they produced Walcott, Bale, Oxlade-Chamberlain, plus all the players that have left them since. Last year they lost Wanyama, they lost Mane, and people thought they would suffer this year. Again, they have really top quality – they lost Lallana, they lost many top players. Overall what they have managed to do is absolutely remarkable. I think it’s the club in England that has produced and developed the most players in the last 10 years and that’s absolutely remarkable.”

Team News

With the next round of Premier League fixtures taking place next midweek, both managers are likely to making a raft of changes to their starting elevens and match day squads.

Southampton

Virgil van Dijk is set to miss out again with the ankle injury that kept him out of the EFL Cup semi-final win at Liverpool on Wednesday.

Jay Rodriguez and James Ward-Prowse picked up injuries against Liverpool and are out.

Charlie Austin, Matt Targett, Alex McCarthy and Jeremy Pied are long-term absentees.

Arsenal

Theo Walcott returns to the squad having recovered from the groin injury he picked up against Manchester City in December 2016.

Granit Xhaka serves the first of his four match suspension following his sending off against Burnley on Sunday.

Mohamed Elneny is still away on International duty with Egypt at the African Cup of Nations.

Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy are back in full training, but today is likely to come soon for them to play a part.

Match officials

Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistant Referees: Peter Kirkup & Simon Beck
Fourth Official: Tim Robinson

Prediction

Arsenal to progress to the last 16 with a 2-1 win.

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