Mikel Arteta's decision to rotate his Arsenal side in an FA Cup defeat at Southampton “really baffles” Ray Parlour, with the manager told that a sixth-place finish is now the best his side can hope for from 2020-21.
The Gunners headed to St Mary’s on Saturday with impressive cup pedigree behind them and with a memorable run to the title last season still fresh in the memory.
They were, however, to surrender their grip on that trophy with little resistance, with the Saints good value for a 1-0 win on home soil.
Arteta rotated his squad on the south coast, and another disjointed display from the Gunners means another route to silverware has been shut off.
Parlour is puzzled as to why the defence of a prestigious prize was not more of a priority for Arteta, with winning a useful habit to develop for a side that has shown signs of life over recent weeks.
The former Gunners winger told talkSPORT: “You have to put out a strong side.
“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.”
Arsenal are still in Europa League contention this season, having reached the last 32, but Parlour believes there is little left for them to play for in what has been a frustrating campaign.
He added: “I don’t think they can finish in the top four.
“There are too many better teams in front of them at the moment – Man Utd 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.”