‘I don’t know what he’s doing!’ – Paul Merson baffled by Mikel Arteta team selection after Arsenal’s FA Cup exit

Arteta heavily rotated his side for the Cup clash
Arteta heavily rotated his side for the Cup clash (Picture: Getty Images)

Paul Merson has been left baffled by Mikel Arteta’s decision to field a weakened team in Arsenal’s FA Cup defeat at the hands of Southampton on Saturday.

A first-half own goal from Gunners defender Gabriel was enough to knock the holders out of the competition at the fourth-round stage.

Arteta fielded a second-string team, with the likes of Thomas Partey and Bukayo Saka only making the bench, while the in-form Emile Smith Rowe was left out of the squad completely.

Gabriel's own goal condemned the Gunners to defeat
Gabriel’s own goal condemned the Gunners to defeat (Picture: Getty Images)

The players that came into the side such as Nicolas Pepe and Willian failed to make an impression when afforded the rare opportunity.

Although Saka, Partey and Alexandre Lacazette all came off the bench in the second half, they were unable to spark a comeback as the Gunners slipped to a disappointing 1-0 defeat at St Mary’s.

Arteta clearly had one eye on Tuesday’s Premier League clash against the Saints when selecting his starting XI.

And Arsenal legend Merson feels the Spanish boss made a ‘bad decision’ in prioritising the league ahead of the FA Cup – the competition he won in his first season as a manager less than six months ago.

‘I don’t know what he’s doing, they’re not going to win the league, they’re not going to get in the top four of the Premier League unless they went on one of the best runs in the history of the league,’ Merson told Sky Sports.

‘This is the one that made Arteta last time around, he came to Arsenal, he had a great semi-final and a great final. 

‘And I honestly can’t believe it, this is a more important game than the midweek league game. 

‘They’re not getting relegated and they’re not getting in the top four. 

‘You don’t really want to end up getting sixth or whatever again and then you play in the Europa League on Thursdays, that just sends them back.

‘So for me, bad decision.’

When asked after the match if he regrets not going with a strong starting XI, Arteta said: ‘No, I think it was a very strong line up because I have full belief in my players and they deserve to play.

‘They’ve done it on many occasions and against top opponents as well and they’ve been playing. So this cannot be the excuse.

‘It’s true that throughout the game we improved and we got better in the second half and we had more quality in what we tried to do.

‘But the players that played deserved and they tried so hard for us.’

MORE : Folarin Balogun sends message to Mikel Arteta after Arsenal’s FA Cup exit

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