Arsenal legend Ray Parlour said he was ‘baffled’ that Mikel Arteta fielded a weakened team for the Gunners’ FA Cup fourth-round tie, which backfired as the holders were dumped out by Southampton.
Arteta make seven changes to the team that thumped Newcastle 3-0 in their last outing, with in-form youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka plus Alexandre Lacazette and Thomas Partey benched, and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang unavailable for personal reasons.
In their place came the likes of Willian, Nicolas Pepe and Mohamed Elneny while Eddie Nketiah led the line up front.
But the decision blew up in Arteta’s face as they crashed out with a 1-0 defeat, with returning defender Gabriel’s first half own-goal proving decisive.
The boss faced the wrath of supporters after the game over his team selection, with Arsenal clearly second-best at St Mary’s, especially having made the trip to the south coast on the back of a brilliant run of six games unbeaten.
And Parlour was stunned Arteta didn’t put out his strongest side to continue their resurgence, admitting the FA Cup was the only thing Arsenal had left to fight for this season.
“You have to put out a strong side,” said the four-time FA Cup winner with Arsenal.
“You know Southampton are in good form, they’re an excellent side this season and they were always going to put out a strong side, and I expected that from Arsenal.
“There’s nothing like winning games of football, so carry that on, put your strongest team out!
“I know they’re looking at the league, but the FA Cup is very important, it certainly was in my era, when I played under Arsene Wenger he put a strong side out in most cup games.
“But Arteta rested a lot of players today. I would have played my best team, get in front, and then rotate your players in the second-half. First and foremost, you have to make sure you win the game.
“It really baffles me. Clubs in mid-table, teams that can’t win the title but aren’t going to be relegated, why do they rest players in the cup? I just don’t get it!
“It’s the FA Cup, the best tournament in the world, but now Arsenal are out, so they have to concentrate on the league.”
However, Parlour claims there isn’t much left to fight for in the Premier League this season for Arsenal, saying the best Arteta’s men can hope for is finishing in sixth place.
“I don’t think they can finish in the top-four,” added the former Gunner.
“There are too many better teams in front of them at the moment – Man United are flying, Man City are getting better and better, Liverpool are going to be there…
“I think the best position they can get to is sixth, probably, so the FA Cup was always very important this season and I’m very surprised with the team today.”