Claude Puel insists he will keep faith with youngsters against Arsenal
Southampton boss Claude Puel insists he will keep faith in his youngsters after injuries left him short of players ahead of their FA Cup fourth-round tie against Arsenal on Saturday.
Puel is fresh from leading the Saints to Wembley after their EFL Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool midweek to cap off an impressive cup run as they reached their first League Cup final in 38 years.
The former Lyon boss has adopted a rotational policy despite their early Europa League exit and with injuries to key first-team players such as Virgil van Dijk, James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez, Puel will look to his younger players to prove critics wrong as they look to embark on another cup run.
Having already knocked Arsenal out en route to the EFL Cup final, Puel dismissed the idea of labelling the players who may be selected against Arsenal as a weakened side and pointed out their recent success to suggest otherwise.
"For me, we always field a good team," Puel said. "For example, against Arsenal away (in the EFL Cup), we played a young team and we won 2-0. No, I don't accept to say that when we play with a young players it is not a good team.
"I'm sorry but since the beginning of the season, every time we can do a strong balance between young players and experienced players with quality on the pitch, it will be the same tomorrow.
"I don't think it is possible for Southampton to rival with all of the great teams, like Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal with the finances.
"It's not possible, I think its important to continue this work with the possibilities. To improve young players with talent and to try to have a good result against all of these great teams. We will see in the future but for me and Southampton, it is just a possibility. It is important to continue the good recruitment with these young players and to believe in them."
The Saints' first and only triumph in the competition was at the famous old Wembley in 1976 but their best run since then was in 2003 when they lost in the final against the Gunners.
Despite their current Premier League position of 11th, Puel hopes Wednesday's win can be a catalyst for the rest of their campaign, starting against his former manager at St Mary's this weekend.
"It was a great performance, a semi-final with two leg, the second leg away, its fantastic against Liverpool but now it's finished," Puel added.
"I have a lot of respect for my former trainer, it's a pleasure to see him again," Puel added. "The first game in the cup it was a good thing for us. I imagine he comes to Southampton with a stronger will to take a good result but all of this competition is just on the pitch and out of the pitch I respect Arsene Wenger.
"It was a great performance (against Liverpool) but it's important to keep a good focus for the next game. We have no time to take pleasure but just to keep a good concentration about the next game because it is a competition. We want to continue in all of these competitions, the Premier League and the FA Cup also."
Arsene Wenger intends to rest a couple of key figures against the Saints but he insists his side will be a strong one.
Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez sat out the third-round win at Preston but Wenger named a much more recognisable side than many of his Premier League counterparts.
"We'll put out a team with first-team experience," he said.
"Maybe there will be one or two younger players, but no more. Overall, it's the squad that will play. I have not yet completely decided who will play and who will not play. It's a first-team squad who will be involved."
Former Saints youngster Theo Walcott could return from a calf injury to be involved while his England colleague Danny Welbeck will be pushing for his first start since recovering from a long-term knee problem.
Arsenal were due to return to St Mary's in the league in under a month but that game will now be rearranged after Claude Puel guided his side into the EFL Cup final with a semi-final victory over Liverpool.
And Wenger believes Southampton will take plenty of confidence from overcoming Jurgen Klopp's Reds to set up a Wembley final against Manchester United.
"They are on a high," he added.
"They produced a fantastic performance, so overall that makes the game even more interesting and more difficult as well.
"They are not short of confidence at the moment and will certainly have a big support, but it's an FA Cup game and we want to qualify."