Merson: What was Arteta doing with line-up?

Paul Merson was left baffled by Mikel Arteta’s team selection as FA Cup holders Arsenal crashed out of the competition with a 1-0 loss to Southampton in the fourth round.

Arteta made seven changes from Monday’s 3-0 win over Newcastle at St Mary’s Stadium, fielding a weakened team in the knowledge that Arsenal face Saints again in the Premier League on Tuesday.

Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey and Alexandre Lacazette dropped to the bench, while Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney were rested completely and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed out with a personal issue.

But their replacements – among them Willian, Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe and Eddie Nketiah – failed to impress as a first-half own goal from Gabriel Magalhaes sent Arsenal out of a competition they won for the fourth time in seven years last season.

Merson was unimpressed by their performance and felt Arteta’s decision to rotate his side, with Arsenal lying 10th in the Premier League table and seven points off the top four, was to blame.

“I don’t know what he’s doing,” he said on Soccer Saturday.

“They are not going to win the league. They are not going to get into the top four, I wouldn’t have thought, unless they go on one of the best runs in the history of the Premier League.

“For me, this is the [competition] that made Arteta last time around. He came to Arsenal and had a great semi-final and a great final.

Thomas Partey did not make it off the bench until the second half
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Thomas Partey did not make it off the bench until the second half

“Honestly, I cannot believe it. This was a more important game than the midweek league game, in my opinion. They are not getting relegated and they are not getting in the top four.

“You do not really want to end up getting sixth or whatever again because then you are playing in the Europa on Thursdays and that just sets you back.

“So, for me, it was a bad decision.”

Arteta defends selection choices

Arteta insisted he had no regrets about the decision to rotate his side, saying the players he selected deserved their chance.

“I think it was a very strong line up because I have full belief in my players and they deserved to play,” he said in his post-match press conference.

“They have done it on many occasions and against the top opponents as well, so this cannot be the excuse.

“It’s true that throughout the game we improved, and we got better in the second half. We had more quality in what we tried to do but the players that played deserved [to play] and they tried so hard for us.”

Cedric Soares in action against Southampton
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Cedric Soares in action against Southampton

On under-fire duo Willian and Pepe, whose performances have frustrated fans this season, he added: “What I am saying is they try to give their best.

“You could see how hard they are trying, with more or less quality, but the intention is there and the willingness is there.

“This is what we demand them to do. After that, the decision making, the final pass, the final goal, the opportunities they have… That is the end product and that’s the hardest thing in football.

“We are going to keep supporting them as much as we possible can, as a coaching staff and as a club because that is what they need. They need to keep working hard and try to improve their performances.”



Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang




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Mikel Arteta says he is not sure when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will return to the Arsenal side as he addresses a personal issue

Arsenal’s lack of depth exposed again

Analysis by Sky Sports’ Nick Wright:

Mikel Arteta left himself open to criticism with his team selection but, wrong decision or not, it is the players who must answer for their poor performances.

This was an opportunity for those on the fringes of Arsenal’s Premier League team to show the manager they deserve more playing time. Instead, they confirmed why they are not getting it.

Willian and Pepe continue to attract the most criticism. The lucrative three-year contract handed to the former during the summer looks increasingly ill-judged while the latter appears further away than ever from justifying his £72m pricetag.

Gabriel Martinelli slices a shot wide against Southampton
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Gabriel Martinelli slices a shot wide against Southampton

Pepe did at least have some bright moments, one superb through-ball to set up Nketiah providing a reminder of his talent, but it was another erratic display overall and the late free-kick he blasted over the bar summed up his lack of confidence.

Nketiah struggled too, spurning a series of scoring chances, while there were also unconvincing performances from Elneny, who was substituted in the second half, and Cedric Soares, who failed to get close enough to Kyle Walker-Peters for the winning goal.

It’s little wonder Arteta is eager to add to his ranks this January, with Martin Odegaard likely to be the next arrival on loan from Real Madrid. Arsenal’s hectic schedule demands greater depth than this.

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Arteta: Auba has ‘personal issue’ to address

Mikel Arteta is unsure when Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang will return for Arsenal as the striker deals with a “personal issue”.

Arsenal captain Aubameyang was withdrawn from the squad hours before their 1-0 defeat to Southampton on Saturday, which saw the FA Cup holders knocked out in the fourth round.

The Gunners play Southampton again in the Premier League on Tuesday, but Aubameyang remains a doubt.

“I don’t know,” said Arteta, when asked about Aubameyang’s availability. “He needs to address that issue, we’ll see how it evolves.

“We’re here and we have to support him and he needs to take the time that is needed because that is a priority at the moment.”

Arteta defends Pepe, Willian as he waits on Odegaard

Arteta revealed he was expecting an update over the weekend with Arsenal in advanced negotiations to sign Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard on loan.

“Since last night I don’t have any news,” he said after the match on Saturday. “I will probably get a few phone calls today and see where we are with everything.”

MArtin Odegaard
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Arsenal are in advanced talks over a loan deal for Real Madrid’s Martin Odegaard

Arsenal’s recruitment has come under scrutiny but Arteta defended club-record signing Nicolas Pepe and summer arrival Willian as the pair once again made little impact after coming into the team for the defeat at Southampton.

“What I am saying is they try to give their best,” said Arteta. “You could see how hard they are trying, with more or less quality, but the intention is there and the willingness is there.

“This is what we demand them to do. And after the decision making, the final pass, the final goal, the opportunities they have, it is the end product and that’s the hardest thing in football.

“I hope (it is only a matter of time before it starts clicking for them). We are going to keep supporting them as much as we possibly can, as a coaching staff and as a club because that is what they need.

“They need to keep working hard and try to improve their performances.”

Merse: What was Arteta doing?



File photo dated 08-11-2020 of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.




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Soccer Saturday’s Paul Merson described Arteta’s decision to play a weakened team in their FA Cup defeat to Southampton as a ‘bad decision’

Sky Sports’ Paul Merson was unimpressed by their performance and felt Arteta’s decision to rotate his side, with Arsenal lying 10th in the Premier League table and seven points off the top four, was to blame.

“I don’t know what he’s doing,” he said on Soccer Saturday.

“They are not going to win the league. They are not going to get into the top four, I wouldn’t have thought, unless they go on one of the best runs in the history of the Premier League.

“For me, this is the [competition] that made Arteta last time around. He came to Arsenal and had a great semi-final and a great final.”

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Southampton KO holders Arsenal after Gabriel own goal

FA Cup holders Arsenal were knocked out in the fourth round by Southampton on Saturday after a first-half own goal from Gabriel.

The Brazil centre back deflected Kyle Walker-Peters’s low drive past Bernd Leno midway through the first half at St Mary’s – the first goal the visitors had conceded in over eight and a half hours stretching back to Boxing Day – as Southampton got the better of Arsenal for the first time in the competition.

As a result, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side will now take on Wolves at Molineux in February’s fifth round after they edged past non-league Chorley Town 1-0 on Friday night.

Player ratings

Southampton: Forster (7), Walker-Peters (8), Bednarek (6), Stephens (6), Bertrand (7), Armstrong (7), Diallo (7), Ward-Prowse (9), Walcott (7), Ings (8), Adams (7)

Subs: Long (6), N’Lundulu (6)

Arsenal: Leno (7), Bellerin (6), Holding (7), Gabriel (5), Cedric (7), Elneny (6), Xhaka (6), Pepe (6), Willian (5), Martinelli (5), Nketiah (8)

Subs: Saka (7), Lacazette (6), Partey (6)

Man of the match: James Ward-Prowse

How Saints finally beat Arsenal in the Cup

Both managers made a raft of changes with the two teams meeting again at St Mary’s in the Premier League on Tuesday evening, although the hosts still sent out a strong line-up as key striker Danny Ings returned.

Saints dominated proceedings before the break, almost opening the scoring in fortuitous circumstances when captain James Ward-Prowse’s corner from the right floated over Leno’s head, only to crash against the bar.

The Arsenal No 1 was called into action again after Che Adams left Gabriel for dead, but the German goalkeeper did well to keep out the striker’s goalbound effort before Southampton took a deserved 24th-minute lead.

Team news

Danny Ings returned to the Southampton side for their FA Cup fourth-round tie at home to Arsenal.
The England striker has recovered from a hamstring injury and a positive Covid test to be recalled along with former Gunners forward Theo Walcott. Che Adams also came into the side which showed six changes from their rescheduled third-round win over Shrewsbury in midweek. Fraser Forster, Jack Stephens, Jan Bednarek, James Ward-Prowse and Ibrahima Diallo all retained their places.

Meanwhile, Arsenal made seven alterations from their 3-0 Premier League win over Newcastle on Monday night. New signing Mat Ryan was named on the bench as Bernd Leno continued in goal, while Hector Bellerin and Gabriel Magalhaes came into the back four. There were also starts for Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe, Willian, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah.

The hosts worked the ball across the box between Ings and Ward-Prowse before the skipper fed the overlapping Walker-Peters down the right. The full back’s low centre was then touched past his own ‘keeper by the unfortunate Gabriel, trying to clear his lines.

The visitors were flat in the first period, only threatening once when Eddie Nketiah’s clever free-kick caught the Southampton defence napping, but Gabriel Martinelli fluffed his lines when faced with just Fraser Forster to beat.

Southampton's Kyle Walker-Peters (left) and Arsenal's Cedric Soares battle for the ball
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Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters (left) and Arsenal’s Cedric Soares battle for the ball

As the sun came out on the south coast after the break, Arsenal’s attacking intentions grew as the visitors stirred into life, especially after Mikel Arteta introduced Bukayo Saka and Thomas Partey just before the hour-mark.

But a combination of Forster, who did well to deny Nketiah, and Ward-Prowse, who was alert enough to clear the former’s shot off the line with ten minutes to go, saw Saints hold on for a trip to Molineux.

Arteta suffers rare Cup loss – Opta stats

  • This was Mikel Arteta’s first defeat in the FA Cup as a player or manager in 15 games (W13 D1), since featuring in Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Blackburn back in February 2013.
  • Southampton have beaten Arsenal in the FA Cup for the very first time, with the Saints drawing one and losing four of their previous five matches against the Gunners in the competition.
  • Southampton have eliminated the holders from the FA Cup for the first time since beating Tottenham in a replay back in February 1902. Indeed, the Saints had lost each of their previous seven FA Cup fixtures against the competition’s holders prior to today.
  • This is the third time in the last four seasons that Arsenal have failed to make it to the fifth round of the FA Cup (2017-18, 2018-19 & 2020-21).
  • Gabriel’s own goal was the first goal Arsenal have conceded since Tammy Abraham’s strike for Chelsea on Boxing Day, ending the Gunners’ run of 508 minutes without conceding in all competitions.

Man of the Match – James Ward-Prowse

The Saints skipper once again ran the show on the south coast, as has so often been the case of late due to his eye-catching form.

The playmaker very nearly broke the deadlock after just five minutes with one of his trademark set plays – albeit not from a customary free-kick, but a corner – only for his whipped delivery to smash against the crossbar.

The England international, 26, was then inevitably involved in his team’s winner midway through the first period, releasing Walker-Peters down the right, before the full-back’s cross was turned into his own net by Gabriel.

What the managers said…

Ralph Hasenhuttl: “We had in the first half I think more punch, more power. In the second half, it’s always normal that the opponent gets a lift, they make a few good subs with quality and then it’s still hard to defend.

“We must make the second goal. I think there was only one or two chances. I think the penalty for Longy (Shane Long) was a clear penalty for me and then you can kill the game but, as long as it’s 1-0, you never know.

“But the team was very disciplined today against such a strong side. It’s always important that you are against the ball very organised and I think I’ve seen today 11 players on the pitch that really worked hard for this cup win.”

Mikel Arteta: “Really sad to be out of the competition. Congratulations to Southampton, but I’m disappointed with the way we lost the game.

“We had issues in the first half. We have to compete in these games, we have to do that better, but it’s a lesson. They all tried so hard, it was intense game and Saints demand the best out of you because they are aggressive. They all tried their best.

“We are looking in the market to see what else we can do, we moved some players, we are a little bit short in one or two positions, let’s see what we can do.”

Pundit View: ‘I don’t know what Arteta’s doing’



File photo dated 08-11-2020 of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.




1:48

Soccer Saturday’s Paul Merson has described Mikel Arteta’s decision to play a weakened team in their FA Cup defeat to Southampton as a ‘bad decision’.

Paul Merson on Soccer Saturday:

“I don’t know what he’s doing,” said the former Arsenal forward.

“They’re not going to win the league. They’re not going to get into the top four, I wouldn’t have thought, unless they go on one of the best runs in the history of the Premier League.

“For me, this is the [competition] that made Arteta last time around. He came to Arsenal and had a great semi-final and a great final.

“Honestly, I can’t believe it. This was a more important game than the midweek league game, in my opinion. They’re not getting relegated and they’re not getting in the top four.

“You don’t really want to end up getting sixth or whatever again because then you’re playing in the Europa on Thursdays and that just sets you back.

“So, for me, bad decision.”

What’s next?

The two sides meet again at St Mary’s in the Premier League on Tuesday evening, with the game kicking off at 8.15pm.

FA Cup 2020/21 – key dates and draw

The FA Cup schedule has been confirmed, with the final set to take place at Wembley on Saturday May 15.

There will be no replays this season to help ease fixture congestion.

The draw for fifth round took place at the same time as that for the fourth round.

  • Fourth round: January 22-25
  • Fifth round: Wednesday February 10
  • Quarter-finals: Saturday March 20
  • Semi-finals: Saturday April 17
  • Final: Saturday May 15

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Arteta keen to avoid repeat of Ozil saga

Mikel Arteta admits Arsenal need to avoid getting back into a position where they have to pay their unwanted players to leave and believes the new-look executive team can prevent such repeats.

Mesut Ozil is set to join Fenerbahce over the weekend after Arsenal agreed to pay up the majority of the six months remaining on a contract which made him the highest-paid player in the history of the club.

Defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was also released from his deal earlier this week after both he and Ozil had been omitted from Arsenal’s Premier League and Europa League squads this season.


Saturday 30th January 5:00pm


Kick off 5:30pm

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The decision to pay up the remainder of the deals was taken to clear the decks at the Emirates Stadium, with the club unable to attract buyers due to the players’ respective wage packets.

Arteta is keen for such situations to be avoided in the future, with the Gunners having also lost Aaron Ramsey on a free to Juventus in 2019 and allowed Alexis Sanchez to join Manchester United in a swap deal as his contract was running down a year earlier.

“You don’t want to get into this position again, that’s for sure,” Arteta replied when asked if lessons had now been learned.



Mikel Arteta and Mesut Ozil




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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says he is letting Mesut Ozil leave the club because he wants to ‘take the team in a different direction’

“Not for the player, not for the club – but it’s happening more and more at every club and this situation you can see in other clubs things happening like that.

“I think you have to have that communication open, obviously to prevent it as much as possible and if they happen, just make a decision and don’t try to delay a situation that is not working for much longer.”

The deals signed by Ozil and Sokratis came under the watch of a previous executive team.

With the hierarchy shifting around over the past couple of years, Arsenal now appear more settled in the boardroom.



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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Newcastle in the Premier League

Chief executive Vinai Venkatesham, technical director Edu and incoming head of football operations Richard Garlick will be tasked with making sure such costly deals are a thing of the past.

Asked if a more stable executive team will help, Arteta replied: “Well this is what we are looking for.

“Obviously a lot of things happened institutionally at the club and with some of the big decision-makers as well.

“We are trying to create a really strong team with different qualities that hopefully is going to give us more sustainability and success in our decisions.”

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What Odegaard would bring to Arsenal

Arsenal are on the brink of completing a loan deal for Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard – but what could the one-time wonderkid bring to the Emirates Stadium and where would he fit into Mikel Arteta’s team?

The Norway international is now 22 but hit the headlines in 2015 when he was signed by Real as a 16-year-old, with comparisons to Lionel Messi being made about his ability.

While his career has not taken off as Messi’s did, his development has taken some encouraging strides forwards in recent seasons and Arteta and Arsenal supporters will be excited to see what he can produce in the Premier League.

Here, we take a look at some of the key questions around the switch…

Why are Real Madrid loaning Odegaard to Arsenal?

Odegaard has spent time on loan at Heerenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad since joining Real Madrid.

He was recalled to his parent club for this campaign after an impressive 2019/20 season at Sociedad with a view to becoming an important figure in Zinedine Zidane’s XI but, despite a promising start, he has fallen out of favour and has been pushing for a loan spell to earn more game time and continue his development.

It’s believed Odegaard’s first preference would have been a return to Sociedad, but with Real favouring a move outside of La Liga, Arsenal look set to capitalise.

Terry Gibson on the Transfer Talk podcast:

“This has been instigated by the player. He showed his credentials at Real Sociedad last season – he was one of the standout players in the whole La Liga campaign. It wasn’t such a big surprise that Real Madrid took him back; the surprise was that he’d done so well – I think that took Real Madrid by surprise. It was an easy choice to bring him back.

“But the relationship with Zidane hasn’t been perfect. Initially there was an improvement – he was playing and doing ok at the start of the season and there was a position for him in the system.

“But things have turned sour and he’s disappeared. There have been one or two niggly injuries but most of the time it’s because Zidane hasn’t chosen him.

“I believe it’s Odegaard insisting he doesn’t want to sit on the bench at Real Madrid. He doesn’t want to be another dependable squad player; he sees himself as being a star and he sees the path to that as playing regularly and he showed what he could do at Sociedad.”

What would Odegaard bring to Arsenal?



Martin Odegaard




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Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero sees Martin Odegaard as a good replacement for Mesut Ozil

Terry Gibson on the Transfer Talk podcast:

“He’s an attacking midfield player – don’t expect too much defensively! He’s a player who can open up packed defences and he’s a player who has the quality to play regularly for Real Madrid, he’s that good.

“Would he suit Arsenal and the Premier League? I think he would. He’s a really good player; I think he has the quality to play for any of the big clubs in the Premier League.”

Sky Sports’ Peter Smith:

“What will Odegaard bring to the Premier League? Well, hype, hope and a lot of media attention for starters.

“The attention of the footballing world was centred on him in 2015 when, a month after his 16th birthday, Real Madrid won the race for his signature – and the interest in the now 22-year-old is set to ignite again.

“Back then, the anticipation of what Odegaard would become at the Bernabeu knew no bounds – but his progress, perhaps disappointingly for some, has been quieter since, as the gradual progression of a midfield technician has taken shape.

“Patience is paying off now, though. After an underwhelming 18-month loan spell at Heerenveen, Odegaard had a standout season at Vitesse in 2018/19, creating more chances than any other player in the Dutch top flight, and finishing third in the assists chart to Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech.

“He backed it up with an impressive season at Real Sociedad last year, when he hit double figures for goal contributions, and was recalled to Real Madrid as a result.

“While a way into Zidane’s line-up has ultimately been hard to find, Arsenal are now set to land a classy creator, a pass-master and an attacking midfielder with a fine touch and bright awareness of the game.

“Odegaard will bring excitement on the pitch as well as off it.”

Where would Odegaard fit in?



Mikel Arteta




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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says the club are ‘looking at options’ in the January windwo

Sky Sports’ Nick Wright:

“Emile Smith Rowe has provided an injection of creativity since breaking into the Arsenal team last month, producing three assists in five Premier League appearances from the number 10 position once occupied by the soon-to-depart Mesut Ozil.

“But at only 20 years old and with injury problems in his recent past, it would be risky to ask the academy graduate to bear the creative burden on his own. Odegaard looks an ideal candidate to share it.

“The Norwegian had to leave Spain for the Netherlands as a teenager for the good of his development, but loans with Heerenveen and Vitesse helped him mature and he showed just how far he has come during his excellent spell at Real Sociedad last year.

“Only five players, including Lionel Messi and Santi Cazorla, created more scoring chances than Odegaard in La Liga last season and the 22-year-old also ranked in the top 10 for successful dribbles.

Odegaard's favoured position is number 10 but he can play elsewhere too
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Odegaard’s favoured position is number 10 but he can play elsewhere too

“Those qualities could prove invaluable for Arsenal in the role Smith Rowe is playing now but Odegaard also has the versatility to play elsewhere. He is capable of playing as a number eight in a 4-3-3 formation and during his season with Vitesse, he provided regular stream of goals and assists from the right flank.

“Much will depend on how he adapts to English football, of course. From Kim Kallstrom to Denis Suarez, Arsenal’s recent history is a reminder that January loan signings do not always work out.

“But Odegaard certainly has the ingredients to help Arteta’s side build on their recent improvement in the final third – be that at number 10, number eight or on the right flank.”

Terry Gibson on the Transfer Talk podcast:

“Will Arsenal find a place on a weekly basis for Odegaard? I’m not sure they will because of the position he plays in. Smith Rowe has come into the team and is flying.

“Odegaard has to choose not the glamorous option but the place where he goes and plays 25, 30 games until the end of the season. I’m not sure if that will happen at Arsenal.”

Where is Odegaard’s long-term future?

Arsenal are looking to sign Odegaard on a loan deal until the end of the season – but, if all goes well, what are the chances of them extending that into another season or even a permanent deal?

There is no formal option to buy in the agreement with Real Madrid and, according to Gibson, the player’s long-term ambition remains to become a star at the Bernabeu.

“I think Odegaard sees his long-term future at Real Madrid – probably after Zidane has moved on,” said Gibson.

Odegaard signed a contract extension with Real Madrid at the start of last season which would keep him at the Spanish club until 2023 – so it could take a substantial amount of money to buy him on a permanent deal.

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