“No, not at all, we want to focus on the Premier League. I think to be professional is to focus on the next game and give absolutely everything. We must play every game with total commitment because there are still many U-turns that can happen until the end of the season. It's those who keep strong that make a difference.”
That is Arsène Wenger on prioritising the FA Cup (or not prioritising it, actually) for the remainder of the season.
Arsenal’s title chance stood at a crossroads last Saturday before the game at Chelsea. A major defeat followed by the major disappointment of shipping a last-minute equaliser to Swansea in midweek has left them on the side roads of the title race trying to find a short-cut back to the main street.
Wenger rightly points out that fifth-place Everton are as far as from Arsenal as Arsenal are from Chelsea in terms of points. Yet one gap is seen to be eminently bridgeable, the other unassailable.
Still, momentum is a vital ingredient now and Wenger’s men need a result to re-tune their engine.
|Arsenal: Koscielny (calf), Walcott (knee), Ramsey (thigh), Ozil (hamstring), Wilshere (ankle), Ryo (hamstring), Diaby (knee)
Manchester City: Silva (doubt – ankle), Aguero (hamstring), Richards (knee), Nastasic (knee)
So the visit of Manchester City is the perfect opportunity.
Yes, yes, yes, it can be seen as huge problem too. Manuel Pellegrini’s side will be three points clear at the top if they win their upcoming games in hand. Their attack has scored a few less than Liverpool and their defence has conceded a few more than Chelsea. But they have won as many games as the other two having played fewer times, garnering a magnificent goal difference of +52. It all makes a convincing case for them being the strongest all-round team in the division.
Man City have won their last three games with an aggregate of 10-0, including a joyous derby success in midweek. However if you stretch it back to that title-opening defeat at home to Chelsea, they have only won six in their last 11. And that includes the 2-1 defeat at home to Wigan in the FA Cup.
Then there is the 6-3 win over Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium in December. The scoreline is similar to the more recent defeats at Liverpool and Chelsea but the game was very different.
“We had plenty of chances that day,” recalled Wenger. “We took a gamble to come back and I think the last 20 minutes was the decider in the game. It's a big game for us but I believe we must just focus on us and keep that attitude we have shown against Swansea. We were [affected] after Saturday at Chelsea and the way we responded for me was very positive.”
And the response must be even stronger this time.
“Manchester City are great going forward,” said Wenger. “They have a fantastic attacking force with many creative players. They have the biggest variety of potentialities. Certainly the quality of our defensive performance will be very important on Saturday.
“These days there are a lot of expectations around Man City. And, even though there's a long history of foreign managers in England, I think Pellegrini has handled the tensions and the stress very well. He has been very quiet and very respectful because, like everybody, they had ups and downs, yet he has handled every situation very well.”
The same can be said of Wenger himself. Unfortunately the huge outpouring of respect and admiration for his 1,000th game was quickly overridden by the events at Stamford Bridge last Saturday lunchtime.
Certainly the quality of our defensive performance will be very important on Saturday
Once we have all disembarked this rollercoaster of a season perhaps we can re-assess that contribution with greater clarity.
In the meantime, the manager is like the rest of us, bruised and battered after a chastening week.
“It is always difficult, I don't deny that” he said. “It's very, very hard and you could say that experience helps in that but what helps too is your desire and love to win as well as your fighting attitude. That is my character I must say.”
And now is the time to show your fighting attitude.