Southampton have no fresh injury worries to contend with ahead of Wednesday night's (10 May) Premier League visit of Arsenal to St Mary's, with long-term absentees Charlie Austin and Matt Targett edging closer towards first-team returns.
Striker Austin underwent surgery on a dislocated shoulder suffered during a Europa League meeting with Hapoel Be'er Sheva five months ago, while England U21 international Targett, previously second choice behind Ryan Bertrand at left-back, has been sidelined since sustaining a hamstring injury during the early stages of a 3-1 win over Burnley in October 2016. He also required an operation and may now have been overtaken by fellow academy graduate Sam McQueen in the defensive pecking order.
Both players stepped up their comeback bids on Friday starting and playing 70 and 61 minutes respectively for the club's U23 side during a 4-2 Premier League 2 defeat at Manchester City.
While it remains to be seen if either will face Arsenal, manager Claude Puel is hopeful they can feature for the senior side before the end of the season.
"There are no new injuries," the Frenchman, still without coveted team captain Virgil van Dijk (foot) and back-up goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (hamstring), told reporters at a pre-match press conference. "Perhaps there is a little tiredness, but we will see this over the next day or so.
"It's important and interesting to see again Austin and Targett starting with the U23s. They come back and they work hard in the training sessions. We will see if they can participate before the end of the season. Of course four or five months without playing, without games and intensity, is always difficult. But I'm happy with their work and we will see if they can play in the next games."
With just four matches of 2016-17 remaining – against Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Stoke City – and mid-table Southampton neither fighting for European qualification nor embroiled in a relegation scrap, it could be argued that the losing EFL Cup finalists might be better served by allowing Austin longer to recuperate before unleashing him against next term.
Puel does not subscribe to that particular theory, however, and claims he will not hesitate in selecting the former Swindon Town, Burnley and QPR forward if he feels it would of benefit to the team.
"No, because he works very well and it's just now to see if he can continue this work and find good physical fitness," he added. "Perhaps it will be interesting for us and for him to see him in the games. We have possibilities with [Manolo] Gabbiadini, [Shane] Long, [Jay] Rodriguez and now Charlie. It's a good thing I have a choice. It's important to see every time the possibility to play in a good rhythm with a good intensity. If I decide he can bring something for the team, I will not hesitate."