Arsene Wenger surprised Saints are struggling to survive
Arsenal take on relegation-threatened Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Arsene Wenger admits he is surprised to see Southampton fighting it out for Premier League survival.
Saints visit the Emirates Stadium on Sunday on the back of a damaging 3-0 defeat to fellow strugglers West Ham.
That loss has left Mark Hughes’ side in the relegation zone, less than a month after the Welshman replaced Mauricio Pellegrino.
Wenger’s Arsenal were pushed all the way by Southampton at St Mary’s earlier in the season, a late Olivier Giroud goal earning the visitors a point from a 1-1 draw back in December.
But, despite marching to an FA Cup semi-final date with Chelsea, Southampton have only beaten bottom club West Brom since the February and their six-year stay in the top flight is under threat.
“Southampton are a team who have a good technical quality and I am quite surprised to find them where they are,” Wenger said when asked about their plight.
“They gave us a very good game this season. Honestly I don’t know, maybe they had injuries, lost Virgil van Dijk (to Liverpool) as well and needed time to recover from that.”
Wenger remains in charge at Arsenal despite several protests over the last year calling for him to be removed.
But the Frenchman believes it is now more difficult for teams to stand by an under-fire manager as supporters call for them to be axed.
“It is part of the modern game, it is why clubs have to continue to work with what they believe is right,” he said.
“It is certainly more difficult because the pressure from the fans is bigger everywhere now.
“I don’t know how it is at Southampton but they have shown remarkable work. If you think, they were in League One and when you think back now to the quality of players they had, it is quite impressive.”
While Sunday’s game is important for Saints, Arsenal will have an eye on the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final at CSKA Moscow four days later.
Wenger saw his side win the home fixture 4-1 to all but assure themselves of a place in the final four and he conceded there is likely to be rotation among his squad this weekend.
“We are focusing on the Premier League and the Europa League with the squad,” he added.
“We rotate a little bit from one game to the other after considering the recovery and the slight injuries or risk of injuries.
“As well we consider that some people, like (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang, are not available in the Europa League but they are available in the Premier League. So the rotation is quite natural.”
Someone who definitely miss the game is Henrikh Mkhitaryan as a knee injury forced him to limp out of the first leg on Thursday night, with Wenger fearing the Armenia international has suffered ligament damage.
“Micki came off and he will be out for Sunday,” Wenger confirmed.
“He has a scan and the fear is that his medial knee ligament has been touched. We’ll know more about that soon. For how long he will be out, I don’t know.”