Arsenal v Southampton: Wenger hails Saints' proud record of nurturing top starlets
Arsene Wenger has praised the Southampton production line as he prepares his Arsenal side to go up against the Saints in their EFL quarter-final clash tonight.
The academy at Southampton has been producing top talent for a number of years, with the likes of Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Theo Walcott all progressing through the ranks.
The latest graduate to make an impression is Josh Sims, who was man of the match on his first-team debut as Southampton beat Everton 1-0 on Sunday.
The 19-year-old could play some part at the Emirates Stadium tonight as both sides look to put their name into the hat for the two-legged semi-finals.
And Wenger knows better than most just what quality can come from years in the Saints set-up, having poached three players from the club over the last decade.
"They have been the most prolific producers of top talent in England in the last 15 years," he said. "They have not only produced talent, but top talents. We have some examples at our club with Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers.
"But don't forget they've also produced top quality players like Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and others. They do not only produce quality players, they scout very well as well because they scouted players like Sadio Mane."
Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain both started in the Gunners' 3-1 Premier League victory over Bournemouth on Sunday and could be rested, while Olivier Giroud is likely to sit it out having picked up a slight groin injury.
One man who Wenger has confirmed will start is Carl Jenkinson, who had been deputising for the injured Hector Bellerin at right-back in recent weeks.
The England international started four games out of six before the visit of Bournemouth, when he dropped out of the squad completely as Wenger handed Mathieu Debuchy a surprise recall.
It was a gamble that backfired as Debuchy was forced off with a hamstring injury after just 16 minutes, but Wenger defended his decision to leave Jenkinson out after he had just returned following a knee problem.
"I rested him completely against Bournemouth because he played two big games (against Manchester United and Paris St Germain) and I felt he needed a breather," said Wenger.
"You forget that it's a big ask. Carl is very conscientious and it takes him time to play completely with freedom. He needs a run of games to play with freedom."
Emiliano Martinez is likely to start in goal after the third-choice goalkeeper signed a new contract last week, while forward Lucas Perez could also be involved after overcoming an ankle injury.