Jason Dodd is refusing to allow Arsenal’s league position to alter his view that they will provide Saints Under-18s with a strenuous test on Saturday.
The Gunners currently sit in tenth in the Barclays Under-18 Premier League South Group – second from bottom with two wins from 19 – while Saints occupy sixth place with nine victories and 19 more points than this weekend’s opponents.
Despite such a gap, the coach is using the reverse fixture of this game – the 2-2 home draw earlier this season where Arsenal closed a two-goal deficit – as evidence that the Londoners will not be a side to take lightly when they welcome Dodd’s youngsters.
“We had a great game against Arsenal up here,” the U18s boss recalled when speaking to saintsfc.co.uk. “We were two-nil up after one-and-a-half minutes. Fair play to Arsenal – they came right back into it. What I liked was that it was a really good footballing game; it was to see how good technically we were against them and we equipped ourselves really well.
“They (Arsenal) mentioned afterwards that they thoroughly enjoyed the game as well. It was about the technically best players getting in and doing bits. Our boys certainly did that for us.
“That (a test) is what you expect from Arsenal. You might think that just because they’re down in the lower parts of our league that they’re not going to be any good. Technically, they’re very, very good. It’s going to be a challenge for us.
“Chelsea were a total football side – these are the kinds of teams we want to be tested against. There’s a Development Squad game on Friday – hopefully some of our lads are going to be involved in that – so it means some other boys might have to step up to the mark for us on the Saturday.”
After recently seeing what he feels has been a sturdy streak growing within the U18s side, Dodd remains desperate to see his youngsters add a more ruthless element to their repertoire, reminiscent of how they found the net against Arsenal earlier on in the campaign.
The coach pinpointed Southampton’s FA Youth Cup exit at the hands of Charlton Athletic is a prime example of how the boys worked their way into excellent positions but failed to reap the rewards.
“We try and do things like our First Team do,” he continued. “Our goals (against Arsenal) came from their mistakes because of our pressure – players closing them down and winning the ball and then making the right decisions when we got in that final area. We scored two good goals.
“The problem at the moment is that we’re creating a lot and we’re doing okay but in the final third we’re just not getting that quality and the decisive pass. We just seem to be taking the wrong options at times. We’ve been challenging our players to work on that all week and hopefully they’ll bring it into this weekend’s game.
“We’ve had a great week. We had a hiccup against Charlton recently in The FA Youth Cup, so it was great to have another game soon after against Chelsea to get that out of the way. In the game against Charlton we had lots of possession but didn’t really hurt them enough. We give credit to Charlton because they defended fantastically well.
“Against Chelsea, we were a lot better. For 60 minutes, they gave exactly what we wanted. Okay, we were hanging in there towards the end as Chelsea were putting us under a bit of pressure.
“I think we’re becoming more resilient now. Players are digging in for each other. When one makes a mistake, someone is helping them out – that’s what we want as coaches. We want to see that because that’s how it’s going to be when they get to the top level.”