“It is pure football. It is where the fate and destiny of teams are decided. Sometimes it is a cold night out in London or a place like Sheffield but that is where the team has to turn up to win the game.”
That was Arsène Wenger talking about FA Cup third-round replays.
Funnily enough the Frenchman was introduced to the world’s oldest knockout competition with a couple of repeat ties back at the start of his Arsenal career.
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In January 1997, Dennis Bergkamp lit up a replay win at Roker Park with classic curler against Sunderland. A year later it needed 220 minutes and penalties to dispatch Port Vale in a classic third-round affair.
With a respectful nod in the direction of Preston North End (a) the following year and Leeds United (h) in 2011, it is as close as Wenger’s Arsenal have come to the earliest exit.
But their opponents on Wednesday are expecting to test that record to the limit.
Swansea City are no longer a surprise package in the Premier League. They have been playing so well for so long that they have shaken the tag.
Part of their exalted reputation was built by the 2-0 win at Emirates Stadium in early December. They snatched a similar victory at Chelsea last week in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg. If they can complete the job in a fortnight and reach their first major Wembley final then few will be overly surprised.
We are becoming familiar with Michael Laudrup’s squad now but it has taken time. His team would have hardly troubled the headline writers when they arrived in Wales but now it is different. For example this was Wenger’s reaction to Swansea this week bringing in another unknown attacking player from Spanish football - Roland Lamah.
“Yes, everybody will look at him now, of course,” he said. “Once you have one or two success stories, people expect every time that you bring in a world-class player.
“They have done quality work and they have found Michu and Chico Flores, who have done exceptionally well, De Guzman too. They have done very good scouting.
But what has changed during the years is that the television money has become so big for the English clubs that Swansea and teams who have at the start a lower potential, can buy in from 80 per cent of the clubs in Italy and Spain. That was not possible before.
“Swansea could not buy a player from Sevilla, or in clubs like that. But today it is possible.”
But excellent foreign imports are not the whole story and the Welsh side do not just have a team, they have a squad. So when they have had to rely on those outside the main XI, there has been a response. For example, in the first tie at the Liberty Stadium, striker Danny Graham grabbed a late equaliser in a relatively rare start and Kyle Bartley acquitted himself well in only his second game since his summer move from Arsenal.
“Kyle had been on loan, he had been playing at Rangers, he has played in many games so he wanted absolutely to play,” said Wenger, explaining the move. “Therefore we sold him because he was in a position where we had six centre backs with Iggy Miguel, Squillaci, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, [Djourou] and Koscielny. When the guys cannot get the games at some stage they have to go.”
The last of those will be missing on Wednesday due to the red card he collected in the early stages against Manchester City. Tomas Rosicky (calf), Mikel Arteta (calf) and Lukas Fabianski complete the injury list but nothing is long term.
However Arsenal fixtures are a treadmill until February - Swansea (h), Chelsea (a), West Ham (h), hopefully Brighton (a) and Liverpool (h) inside 15 days. The manager expects some manoeuvring on the team sheet but not much.
“At the back, we have not much [opportunity for] turnover, especially in central defence,” he said.
“I believe there will be a certain stability because of a desire to put things right. There might be some changes but I will try to have a good mixture between stability and freshness. We have to go for it.”
Despite the sending off, Wenger was unhappy with the manner of the goals conceded against Manchester City on Sunday as Arsenal lost their first Premier League game since that Swansea defeat.
I want us to please the fans, not the other way round. But the fans can have a positive input and help the team on that front
He had earlier spoken of his side being “timid” and lacking “authority” on the day. The fans stuck by their side after a desperate first half and may have contributed to their team’s mini-revival after the break.
Wenger wants the fans to repeat the feat on Wednesday in a game now pivotal to Arsenal’s potential this season but he knows the responsibilities remain on the pitch not off it.
“I want us to please the fans, not the other way round,” said the 63-year-old. “But the fans can have a positive input and help the team on that front.
“I felt they were good on Sunday. They were with us until the end. I’m still convinced that we would not have lost that game if it was 11 against 11.
“But it was like that and you cannot fault the fans. We want to transform our desire into a positive attitude and that’s what is at stake.
“In the end you just want to win a football game,” he concluded. “We just lost one on Sunday that meant a lot to us.
“What we want now is to come back to a winning habit. It's our next game and we want to win straight away again.”
Arsenal: Arteta (calf), Rosicky (calf), Fabianski (ankle)
Swansea: Taylor (ankle)Copyright 2013 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 16 Jan 2013