Ralph Hasenhuttl up for the challenge of keeping Southampton riding high

Ralph Hasenhuttl has admitted he did not expect Southampton’s rapid rise up the Premier League table – but he is happy to deal with the “threat” of sitting in the Champions League places.

Less than 14 months after the Saints were routed 9-0 by Leicester on their own pitch, they sit in fourth place with 23 points from their opening 12 games, 15 more than they had managed by the same stage last season.

Asked if he could have anticipated such a start – his side lost their first two league games – and if it had forced him to reassess his targets, Hasenhuttl said: “No. No.

“I did not expect that, definitely not. I didn’t expect that we would be again in the relegation battle this season, but that we are that high, you couldn’t have expected.

“The threat of the Champions League spots, we can stand this. It’s a different threat.

“I also haven’t changed my targets. They are not always based on positions in the table, normally, more on the game we want to play.

“I want to see development, I want to see development every week and where it ends up, I don’t know, to be honest.”

Southampton face a test of their new credentials in the new few weeks as they prepare to face a wounded Arsenal, Manchester City and champions Liverpool, and Hasenhuttl, who takes his side to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening, knows the degree of difficulty is about to increase markedly.

He said: “We have now a battle against the big ones. We haven’t taken so many points this season against them – last season we took more against them – so we must find a good balance now for the way we play now to still be able to take points against them.”

Should the Saints manage to leave north London with something to show for their efforts, that would pile further pressure on Gunners boss Mikel Arteta as he attempts to halt an alarming slide.

Having experienced difficult times in his early days at St Mary’s, Hasenhuttl understands some of what the former Manchester City assistant manager is going through, but is confident he will prevail.

He said: “It is a difficult job and every manager goes through these spells. Some have it more often, some have it less, but you know what you have to do.

“Mikel is a young manager, but an experienced assistant coach of Pep (Guardiola). He also saw that they (Manchester City) were not always successful and some situations that were not perfect.

“He must turn things around. He can do it – hopefully after Wednesday.”