The Way I see it - Arsenal v Southampton

Last updated : 29 October 2004 By Jason Hogan

... Gooners everywhere had the chance to take a look into the future on the other side of Manchester a few days later - and you know what? The future doesn't seem too bad at all.In terms of experience, there was a huge gulf between the side Arsenal fielded and their opponents but by the time Robbie Fowler bagged a consolation goal for City with pretty much the last kick of the game, Arsenal's youngsters had almost made a mockery of being at such an apparent disadvantage.

I thought that the youngsters, who were captained fairly well by Pascal Cygan it has to be said, took their time, almost understandably, to find their feet in the game and when we did get going, there were four men who played a pivotal role. I was impressed by Pennant before he went off and once again, Fabregas showed admirable composure but it was Mathieu Flamini and in particular Quincy Owusu-Abeiye that impressed me most on the night.

It was the introduction of the young Dutchman around the hour mark which gave us real impetus with his pace and willingness to stretch City both with and without possession of the ball and if anything it seemed to enhance confidence that was already growing by the minute.

Having had already had a goal disallowed the youngsters refused to be denied and decisively bagged a couple of cracking goals in the last 20 minutes. Both goals were very much team goals and if you haven't had the pleasure of seeing them, then trust me when I say that both of them were as good as any team goals the first team have scored this season.

As a result of doing so well at Eastlands, the youngsters have earned themselves a home tie with Everton in the next round. On the evidence of what I saw, the possibility of the youngsters taking a second Premiership scalp on the spin cannot be ruled out at all.

As a matter of fact the youngsters ended up putting the seal on what was already turning into a very good day for Arsenal fans because the Boss officially put pen to paper on a new deal tying him to the club until 2008. Now, like everyone else I'm obviously delighted as an Arsenal fan. We will not make a better signing between now and 2008. But as a person, I am also happy for the Boss himself too. He has been such an influence behind the construction of the new stadium, the thought of anyone else leading the team in our first league match at the new stadium doesn't really bear thinking about.

Now it's time to look forward to Saturday when Southampton will be the visitors to Highbury.

Now I know this is one of many clichés in the game but a week is indeed a long time in football- never mind 18 months. You see, it was about 18 months when the Saints put the seal on what was a very good season for them by getting to the FA Cup Final where, of course, the Arsenal were their opponents.

Come the eve of the final I remember saying that Southampton's future looked rosy under Gordon Strachan. At that stage, they had got into Europe, gained a spot in the top ten of the Premiership and for the first time in donkey's years, they even had top flight South Coast derbies to look forward to against Portsmouth the following season. It all seems a far cry from how things are down at St Mary's today because having taken one, maybe two steps forward under Strachan the club have since taken two, maybe three, steps back since he left.

Chairman Rupert Lowe caused uproar amongst Saints fans when Glenn Hoddle was linked with a return to the club and by way of a concession he appointed Paul Sturrock as manager instead. Sturrock, through no fault of his own really, found himself in an untenable position at the club almost from day one and he was removed from his post after less than 15 matches at the helm.

What does Lowe then go and do? He appoints Steve Wigley, a chap that not only didn't have the right coaching qualifications to meet the FA's criteria but having taken the on the job of running the team, nobody seems to know exactly whether Wigley is the manager, head coach or what? I'm very much on the outside looking in but the whole situation appears to be confusing everyone.

More than that, whatever Wigley's title is, the fact is the Saints fans are far from happy with what's going on at the club right and to be fair, they have every right to be. The fact that they have been deprived of the services of Beattie, Crouch and Phillips recently doesn't even begin to mitigate the situation they find themselves in because in truth those three have struggled to have a real impact collectively for the Saints all season.

I also get the impression that the Saints fans are slowly getting tired of Fabrice Fernandes. They have not been amused with his little dalliance with the courts off the pitch recently or by his performances in particular on it.

I'm sure that the Saints fans were even less impressed with how they scraped past a gallant Colchester side in midweek. I understand that Colchester had a hatful of chances in the game and could easily have come away with a famous win rather than a 3-2 defeat.

The only bright spot was of course the hat-trick scored in that game by the rather colourfully named Dexter Blackstock. The 18 year old has been pressed into action recently with Beattie, Phillips, Crouch and Ormerod all unavailable and it's highly likely that he will be starting for them again on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.

Still, everybody in the press and the media will be keeping a close eye on what happens in this fixture. Believe me, there will be talk of a full blown crisis and "The Invicibles" tag will suddenly be consigned to that archives of mythology should we slip up on Saturday. I have already seen snippets in the media from the likes of Mark Lawrenson for example who has now suddenly downgraded us to being "a good side" virtually overnight.

Given that the Saints will not be at full strength and that the Arsenal will be champing at the bit to put the record straight then the logical thing would be to suggest that there is going to be a massacre at Highbury.

However, if last Sunday event taught me anything it is that logic does not have a place in football and it also conclusively taught me that acceptance is not a two-way street where Arsenal are concerned.

You see, its one thing for us Gooners having to accept that virtually everyone outside of Highbury neither likes nor respects Arsenal but for our detractors to then have to the barefaced cheek to tell us what we should or should not accept and then expect us to listen? Sorry, I don't think so.

I think that this is where our motivation lies from now on. Including Saturday, we have 28 chances to make everyone of our detractors accept the fact that we are still the best team in this country come May. Let's see how much good grace is swilling around amongst our detractors then!!!!