SAINTS are set for an early taste of Premier League action, with Arsenal due to feature in this year’s Markus
Liebherr Memorial Cup.
The club are expected to gear up for a top-flight return by taking on the Gunners, who have agreed to play in the annual pre-season tournament alongside Saints and an as-yet-unknown third team.
The appearance of Arsene Wenger’s side is understood to be part of the deal that saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain move from St Mary’s to the
Emirates Stadium in a transfer worth up to £12m last August.
The inaugural memorial tournament, which is held to honour Saints’ late owner, took place last year.
On that occasion, Athletic Bilbao and Werder Bremen were the two teams that competed with Saints for the trophy, with the Spanish side emerging as winners.
This year’s tournament is due to take place on Saturday July 14, when the Olympic torch relay is also due to pass through the stadium.
The addition of a major Premier League club could help Saints improve on a disappointing attendance of just a few thousand last summer.
It would also represent Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first return to St Mary’s since his departure for Arsenal.
Following his move, the 18-year-old has gone on to become a fully-fledged England international, having been selected this week by new national team boss Roy Hodgson, pictured, for the squad that
will travel to this summer’s European Championships, which finish on July 1.
The memorial tournament sees the three teams compete against each other in a series of round-robin 45- minute matches, with ties decided by spot kicks.
Three points are awarded for a win, two for a victory on penalties and one for defeat in a shoot-out.
Because of the unusual format, the tournament has run into some trouble with the Football Association.
Last year’s event was not sanctioned by the organisation, with a spokesman telling the Daily Echo: “The FA can confirm that Southampton’s Memorial Cup event is not played in accordance with the
laws of the game, as fixtures are not the required 90 minutes.
“Therefore, the tournament format is not officially sanctioned by The Football Association.”
Practically, that appeared to have little operational impact on the event, although it did mean the use of retired officials, as actively registered ones are prohibited from participating in
unsanctioned competitions under FA rules.