Football

Wenger braced for top-four fight

SOUTHAMPTON v ARSENAL

(Tonight, 10.55pm, SingTel mio TV 104 & 
StarHub TV Ch 229)

Arsenal will hope to begin the new year by reclaiming a top-four position in the Premier League table that has traditionally been theirs.

Arsene Wenger's side travel to Southampton tonight in the knowledge that victory at St Mary's will see them leapfrog their hosts into the Champions League places.

But Southampton, who drew 1-1 with leaders Chelsea last Sunday, will be determined to defend their position, and Wenger has admitted he had not foreseen 2014 ending with the south-coast club so high in the standings.

"He has done a remarkable job," Wenger said of former Holland star Ronald Koeman, who left Feyenoord to take over from Mauricio Pochettino at the start of the season.

"He has done very well and bought very well. He gets them to play very good football.

"They were the surprise because there was a big exodus there at the end of the last season.

"They've done very well, unexpectedly, because they've benefited from the stability at the back and in midfield from last year.

"They added (Sadio) Mane, (Graziano) Pelle and (Dusan) Tadic, who have done very well very quickly. That's why they are where they are."

Wenger told the Arsenal website that his side must take advantage of any weakness shown by the teams ahead of them in the table.

The Gunners have taken 10 points from a possible 12 over the festive period and head into this clash in positive mood.

CONSISTENCY

Wenger is pleased with his side's form but has emphasised the need for consistency during the second half of the season.

"We will fight to be as close to the top as possible," he said.

He added: "We are not in a mode of calculating, we are in a mode of 'let's go to the next game and win it'. You give your best and, if there is a weakness in front of you, you want to take advantage of it.

"I think we are some points short of what we could have achieved. It's time to gain back the points that we've lost by the end of the season.

"I feel it is nearly impossible that we will have the same bad luck on the injury front that we had in 2014. What is explainable in 2014 is that we had many players injured because they played in the World Cup."

Southampton have selection dilemmas of their own as defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, a player thought to be on Wenger's radar, is suspended following his dismissal in the Chelsea match for two bookable offences.

That will put the onus on Victor Wanyama to protect the defence and the Kenya international believes that Southampton cannot expect any of their opponents to underestimate them anymore.

"Now everyone knows what we can do," said the former Celtic player, whose side have gone three league games without defeat following a sticky patch in late November and early December.

"At the beginning, nobody gave us a chance." - Wire Services.

We deserved three points against Chelsea. There was a foul before they got their goal. We are at home so we need to have the same spirit and hopefully we can get a good result.

- Southampton’s Victor Wanyama