By Richard Clarke
At this stage of the season, a manager must sometimes turn himself into a juggler or he can end up looking like a clown.
The FA Cup circus arrives at Emirates Stadium on Monday night for a Fourth Round replay with Cardiff. It is a repeat performance after the first attempt was called off due to snow a fortnight ago.
The competition has moved on since then. Sunday’s draw left Arsenal safe in the knowledge that they can reach the Semi-Finals without having to leave their palatial North London stadium. If they beat the Welshmen, they have Burnley and then maybe Sheffield United or Hull – all at home.
But given the media pressure being exerted on Arsène Wenger to win a trophy – any trophy – right now, how much resource can he put into the FA Cup when his side are five points outside the top four and have a two-legged tie with Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League just over the horizon?
It seems to depend on your definition of ‘a trophy’.
“I still believe that the first trophy you want is qualifying for the Champions League,” Wenger told Arsenal.com in his only pre-match interview. “Then you want to win the Premier League and win the Champions League and then go after the other trophies.
“We have been in the Champions League every year [since 1998]. So that is what you want to achieve first but of course we want to win trophies as well.”
Does this suggest that the modern-day FA Cup is in danger of fizzling out?
“No, the FA Cup is still magic because anybody would love to go to Wembley,” replied Wenger.
“We went there in the FA Cup Final of 1998 but we have not been to the new one. At the moment we are too far away to say we’ll do it but we will give everything to get there, of course.
“The team are motivated and they want to win, don’t worry. The fear for people who don’t live with the team is that they aren’t motivated but believe me that is not missing in a top-level side like ours.
“It is just the know-how of winning that is important.”
The nous in Monday’s side will have been severely affected by the lack of Emmanuel Adebayor who picked up a hamstring injury injury at Tottenham last weekend. Emmanuel Eboue (suspended) and Andrey Arshavin (ineligible) are also unavailable. Abou Diaby (thigh), Mikael Silvestre (thigh), Theo Walcott (shoulder), Cesc Fabregas (knee) and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring tendon) are still injured.
If Wenger keeps with his previous FA Cup policy then Lukasz Fabianski will be in goal. There is also a possibility that Eduardo will make his first Arsenal appearance since breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle at Birmingham almost a year ago. The Croatian striker was an unused substitute at White Hart Lane last Sunday and had half-an-hour for his country in midweek.
Arsenal could do with his poaching ability. Wenger’s men have hit the net just once in the last 364 minutes of football and every goal in 2009 has been scored or assisted by Robin van Persie.
“It is completely unlike Arsenal,” admitted Wenger, “and the circumstances are a little bit strange. We played against West Ham who had a very good side. We played at Cardiff which was a little bit special and then we played at Tottenham with 10 men.
“But I still don’t think it is completely characteristic of our team. We are used to scoring goals and we will score goals again, don’t worry.
“At the moment it is difficult for everybody in that area but I am convinced that we keep working well as a team, playing well as a team, that will come back quickly.”
For their part, Cardiff have not conceded a goal since the scoreless draw at Ninian Park last month. In fact, 2-0 wins against Coventry and Nottingham Forest have seen them rise to fifth in the Championship.
“Since they played against us they have gained some confidence and they are doing very well in the League,” said Wenger.
“They have had games postponed too and so we want to prepare well because we know this is a very important game for us.
“We know we played against a good opponent that gave us big problems over there.
“But we just want to go as far as we can in every game and we want to win every game. We are unbeaten in 11 and we want to keep that going.
“The longer the run lasts the stronger we will be in all competitions.”
* If the scores are level at full time, 30 minutes of extra-time will be played. If it is still level after that, the tie will be decided on penalties.Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 9 Feb 2009