x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Southampton’s chance to prove they belong among Premier League elite

Victory at Emirates Stadium will put them at the top of the table.

James Ward-Prowse played for England’s U21s last week and has been an integral part of a rejuvenated Southampton side. Michael Steele / Getty Images
James Ward-Prowse played for England’s U21s last week and has been an integral part of a rejuvenated Southampton side. Michael Steele / Getty Images

Southampton could replace Arsenal at the top of the Premier League if they succeed in exacting revenge in north London.

Last season, Southampton began life back in the top flight disastrously, with the 6-1 hammering they suffered at the Emirates Stadium their fourth defeat in succession after promotion. They return to Arsenal in remarkably different circumstances.

Should Liverpool fail to beat Everton in the early game on Saturday, Southampton would go top with a two-goal or better margin of victory against Arsenal.

That outcome would certainly prove Southampton’s credentials this term and for players such as James Ward-Prowse, it is a chance to right some wrongs.

“We went there last year and did not have a good day,” the midfielder, 19, said. “We will be out to put that right and hopefully go top of the table.

“It will be tough. They have improved massively from last year, made some new signings, obviously with Mesut Ozil coming in. It is going to be tough but if we want to get to the top then we have got to beat teams like this.”

The fact Southampton are heading into the match third in the standings is remarkable in itself.

The blend of home-grown talent, long-serving players and big-money signings is evidently reaping rewards, although Mauricio Pochettino’s side now face a tough few weeks.

After the trip to Arsenal comes a clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, before Aston Villa and Manchester City head to St Mary’s.

“I think the next four games will show how far we have come as a club, as a team,” Ward-Prowse said. “We are playing three of the top teams in the next four games and have the difficult task of Villa at home.

“After the next four games we will see where we are, but I think we are confident with all the hard work we are putting in that we can stay there.”

So impressive has Southampton’s start to the season been that it is even an improvement on how they began the 1983/84 campaign, when they finished runners-up to Liverpool.

Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has been impressed by the form of Pochettino’s well-drilled side, who have conceded only five goals, best in the league.

“It shows you that there is a big challenge for us offensively to open that defence, but I am confident we can do that,” he said. Theo Walcott returns for Arsenal today, but they will without the suspended midfielder Mathieu Flamini. Southampton will be without Jack Cork, who has an ankle injury.

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