Southampton’s manager Claude Puel leads the Saints into the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, as his team faces Arsenal. For him, it’s a familiar foe.
Puel, 55, will make a piece of history in the legendary Arsenal gaffer’s book when the two sides face off Saturday. It will be the first time in Arsene Wenger’s career that he will face one of his former players.
Puel was a one-club man for AS Monaco from 1979-1996, playing as a defensive midfielder. For seven of those years, from 1987-1994, he played under Wenger, then early into his managerial career. Wenger got out to a flying start at Monaco, winning the league in his first year in a preview of future successes to come.
Claude Puel, who was part of that team, can count his Ligue 1 medal among his trophy case as a player. Under Wenger, he would also collect a Coupe de France winners’ medal before going into managing himself.
As a younger manager in his first year in the Premiership, Southampton’s boss has his work cut out for him against his former mentor. Wenger’s six FA Cups, three League titles and twenty-year tenure at Arsenal make him a living legend of the game.
Against countrymen, the Arsenal man is nigh-invincible; as a manager he’s 10-6-6 all-time versus fellow Frenchmen and has not lost to a French manager since 2011. That match was a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in the penultimate match of the 2010/11 season.
Clearly, Southampton have their work cut out for them. Sitting on a paltry two points after a pair of draws and a loss versus Manchester United, the Saints absolutely need a win here to kickstart their season.
Against an Arsenal side managed by arguably one of the best managers in the game, and bolstered by some late purchases in the transfer window, that’s a tall ask.
But in football, anything can happen. And Southampton have history on their side from last season’s campaign. Last year, the Saints beat Arsenal 4-0 at home before stealing points at the Emirates in a 0-0 draw. That match was one of six consecutive clean sheets turned in by Southampton keeper Fraser Forster.
No doubt, the Saints will be counting on a similar miracle this Saturday afternoon.