By Jamie Dunn
Arsene Wenger indicated on Friday that he may pick a strong Arsenal side to face Swansea in the FA Cup on Sunday.
“I will play the team I think has the best chance to win the game, without considering any rotational desire,” the Frenchman said in a press conference ahead of the meeting at the Emirates Stadium.
Perhaps the Gunners’ near eight-year trophy drought – the stick most often used to beat Wenger with these days, along with transfer market inactivity – has finally caught up with the 63-year-old.
But that did not appear to be the case as recently as late October, when the Arsenal boss addressed fans at the club’s AGM.
“For me, there are five ‘trophies’ – the first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is to win the FA Cup and the fifth is to win the League Cup,” Wenger said.
“I say that because if you want to attract the best players, they do not ask ‘did you win the League Cup?’ They ask you ‘do you play in the Champions League?’.”
It is a valid point. Would Wenger have been able to attract Santi Cazorla to north London without a place in the Champions League? Would there even be a Theo Walcott contract saga without regular participation at Europe’s top table? Arguably not.
Given that the financial rewards involved in regular participation in the Champions League far eclipse that of a domestic cup win and subsequent Europa League qualification, it is an argument born – and ultimately reinforced – in the boardroom.
But it is not one that continues to wash with the fans, especially on the back of a wretched Capital One Cup quarter-final exit to Bradford City.
It was a game in which Arsenal dominated possession and created numerous chances, but did not score an equaliser until the 88th minute and ultimately succumbed in a penalty shootout against a hungry League Two side.
And it was a defeat which caused premature calls of a crisis from outside the club, while some Gunners fans wanted the manager’s head to roll.
Nor was it the first time in recent years Arsenal had been embarrassed in a cup competition. In 2010, Wenger saw a side mixed with youth and experience bullied out of the FA Cup by Stoke in a 3-1 loss at the Britannia Stadium.
And then there was the blunder in the League Cup final that allowed eventually relegated Birmingham City to pip the Gunners to another trophy a year later.
The players will of course riff on a variation of an all too familiar theme – “We want to go as far as we can in every competition,” or “Every game is important” – but when Wenger is so blunt with his priorities, can his charges be blamed when the club bows out of another domestic competition far too early?
Swansea must not be underestimated, as the 2-0 defeat in the Premier League courtesy of a Michu double displayed earlier in the season.
Wenger, of course, recognises that. Whether or not his team selection reflects that fact remains to be seen.
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