By Richard Clarke
Barcelona to Brisbane Road. With every respect to Leyton Orient, it is one hell of a leap.
Arsenal have to travel precisely 5.7 miles across London on Sunday for this feisty-looking FA Cup Fifth Round tie. If their minds are still full of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi rather than McGleish, Revell and Dawson then much of that good work in midweek will be left tainted.
Cup shocks are a two-headed coin – complacency on one side, commitment on the other - and certainly the ingredients are all there this weekend.
Arsène Wenger has never lost to lower League opposition in 25 ties over 15 years at Arsenal. Part of the secret is respect for and research on your opponent. He was knee-deep in the latter when he spoke to the media on Friday lunchtime.
"We always try to prepare properly,” he said. “That gives you a guarantee to be at a certain level but, of course, it does not guarantee that you qualify.
"This is the charm of the game. To be successful in the end, you need to go through in these kinds of matches. It is a mental test of how much we want to win. If you want to win, you have to play well at Orient.
“We have had reports of their games and we watched them a little bit against MK Dons. They have a good left back and they have a striker who looks dangerous, Alex Revell. So you see we always look after our opponent.
“To be fair I have had no time [since Barcelona to find out about Orient]. We watched 30 minutes of the first half against MK Dons and I will watch the rest this afternoon.”
Incredibly, Johan Djourou was ruled out on Thursday but will now start if fit. Sebastien Squillaci will certainly return, Bacary Sagna is back from his ban but Abou Diaby’s suspension continues.
"Djourou has a test on Saturday,” said Wenger. “I will play Squillaci and then will see about whether to play Laurent Koscielny or Johan Djourou. Koscielny finished quite exhausted so if I have the choice I will choose Djourou."
With a crucial Premier League game on Wednesday and the Carling Cup Final next Sunday, the manager added that he would certainly shuffle his side. The question is, to what extent.
Arsenal have just started a spell of five games inside 17 crucial days. If they draw against Orient the replay will make it six.
By the end of that period, they could have won their first trophy in six years and pulled off arguably their greatest ever European victory. There are also a couple of Premier League games too – drop anything significant in those and Manchester United may be out of reach.
It is the most significant phase of the season since… well… the last really significant one. That is not to be flippant about the next fortnight or so but, in reality, we hope it is merely a gateway to greater things.
On Friday, Wenger too rallied against the hyperbola.
“It is an important period but, no matter what happens in the next two weeks, we can only think about the next game,” he said. “That is the best way to approach it because we want to win all four games.
“I am never looking backwards and never too far forward. The result of the next game can influence things. If you have a big disappointment, it will affect all the other games. You gain confidence slowly but lose it quickly. So to keep it high it is important to take care of the next game."
Leyton Orient have hovered just above the dropzone in League One for most of this season but their 2011 form has lifted them within sight of the Play-Offs. Russell Slade’s side are unbeaten in their last 11 games and have not lost at Brisbane Road since September. They won at Norwich in the Third Round and at Swansea in the Fourth Round to reach the last 16 for the first time in 29 years.
Though near neighbours, the teams have met just ten times. Orient’s last victories came in 1913 and 1915, the last meeting came in the FA Cup Semi-Final of 1978 when a brace from Malcolm MacDonald helped secure a 3-0 win for Terry Neill’s team.
“I have been to Orient,” recalled Wenger. “We played a friendly with Arsenal there in a pre-season game. Currently they have Ben Chorley, a former Arsenal player and Jason Crowe who played here when I arrived first.
“They have a side on a good run at the moment so they are dangerous for us. Believe me, I have no doubt they will be up for it.
"There is history in England no matter where you go. No matter what happened before we will want to go there and win the game. We are on a very strong run and everybody will watch the game with a lot of interest. We will see how much Leyton Orient can do against us.”
Surely that depends on what Arsenal do themselves.Copyright 2014 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 18 Feb 2011