JACK Stephens believes Arsenal are still a team to be feared despite Saints being just three points behind them in the table.

Mikel Arteta’s Gunners were trounced by Manchester City in their first match back before being beaten away to relegation battlers Brighton.

But Stephens is erring on the side of caution ahead of tonight’s St Mary’s fixture and isn’t taking their poor form for granted.

Asked if Arsenal have lost their fear factor, the Saints defender replied: “It’s hard.

“They are still a massive football club and they still have top quality players. I wouldn’t say their fear factor has gone because I’m very mindful of their top players.

“I think it’s just the confidence of us going into any game.

“When we played Liverpool away we ended up losing 4-0 and it sounds daft, but I can’t believe we lost 4-0 because we were fantastic for over an hour.

“I think our confidence going into any game means we will fancy our chances, no matter who we are playing against.

“However, I’m still mindful of Arsenal’s quality and their attacking players.”

As a central defender, Stephens knows all about Arsenal’s dominance – especially when they were able to boast names such as Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Sol Campbell in their side.

But those players are long gone, and the Gunners’ defence is often highlighted as the weakest element of their team.

Stephens sympathises with the north London’s side’s defence, though, and explained why it’s tough for any player following in the footsteps of club legends.

“I think they were very lucky to have what they had in the late ’90s and early 2000’s, with the likes of Adams and Campbell,” added the 26-year-old. “They had unbelievable defenders – they went a season unbeaten!

“That’s tough boots to fill for any players coming in.

“Because of the players they had, the expectation levels are still sky high and it’s going to be difficult to replicate what they achieved.

“They are going through a tough period at the moment, but they are still very capable of putting in a top performance.

“They are capable of turning it on, so, for us, we need to be ready and focused on the game.”

Saints are currently riding the crest of a wave that started with their excellent community work during the lockdown, continued with contract extensions for Ralph Hasenhuttl, Shane Long and Will Smallbone and culminated in a convincing 3-0 away to Norwich.

Stephens arrived at the club from Plymouth back in 2011, where there was a party atmosphere due to back-to-back promotions.

After excelling under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, Saints lost their way, although there’s hope Hasenhuttl will make the St Mary’s side a top-half team again

And Stephens reckons the feelgood factor is back for good.

“When I signed for the club it was a great place to be as everyone was still on a high from the back-to-back promotions,” the defender added.

“Coming into the Premier League meant there was always going to be a little stutter in the progression and it probably came a little bit later than what was expected.

“We have struggled in the last couple of years, but we seem to have turned that corner now, especially in the second half of the season.

“It’s a great place to be again and hopefully now we can start to kick on and push up the table to where we think we deserve to be.”