Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes Southampton have every right to dream of a top-four finish after their flying start to the season.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men travel to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday sitting in third place in the table, and Wenger has lavished praise on their efforts and that of their Argentine manager.
Wenger claimed the uncertain nature of this season’s Premier League means the ambitions of Pochettino and his players do not need to be restricted.
“You cannot rule anyone out [of a top-four finish] and if they keep their defensive record as it is, they can be very ambitious,” he said.
“Poccetinho has done extremely well. He came in at a period when he was questioned and he has done, without speaking too much, a great job in a very efficient way. He has put Southampton where they are today, so you have to give him great credit for that.
“The Premier League is unpredictable this season and the biggest quality needed to win the Premier League will be consistency of results. The fact that they [Southampton] have played together for a long time gives them [good stability]. They have the best defensive record in the league and that makes them difficult to play against.”
Wenger commented that Southampton’s impressive rise did not seem likely when his side beat them 6-1 in September 2012, but he feels their improvement could be seen long before the start of this season.
“They looked like candidates to be relegated [when we beat them 6-1],” he said. “When we then played them at Christmas, we had a difficult 1-1 draw and you could see they would not go down, that they had something in there that was special. They have a spirit and a quality to keep them in the Premier League.
“Look at the quality of work they have done, look at the players they have in the national team and players who could potentially go into the national team. We have [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain and [Theo] Walcott [from Southampton]. It shows the quality of the club. It is tremendous what they have achieved.”
Wenger is eager for his side to bounce back from a disappointing defeat against Manchester United in their last Premier League outing, as he suggested that their performance at Old Trafford confirmed they still need to strengthen in certain areas.
“What I learned [from the United defeat] is we have the potential to play at the top,” he said. “In the first half, we played with the handbrake, so we want to strengthen our belief.
“I watched the game again. United had two efforts on target, one of those was the goal. I found us nervy in our build-up play in the first half. We restricted them to very few chances away from home and hopefully that teaches us a lesson and in the next big games, we need to play with full cylinders from the start.
“Every game you have to accept, you can win, lose or draw. I know we have enough quality to decide the games in our favour. Let’s focus on putting in a top-level performance and then you have a very good chance to win the game.”