By Rob Kelly
“We have three huge challenges and we know it will be down to how much we will move forward and how much we will be capable of giving. We know there will be small margins in these games and we have to be sure that every small margin goes for us. - Arsène Wenger
There was a telling moment in Arsène Wenger’s pre-match interview with Arsenal Player when he was asked just how much he enjoys the kind of defining week in the season that his side now faces.
After all, the prospect of an FA Cup quarter-final against Watford, a Champions League clash in Barcelona followed by a tough trip to Everton would appear daunting to most. But for a born competitor like the Arsenal manager, it simply represents an opportunity.
“There’s a lot of pressure and I enjoy it, because I believe real pressure is to play games without any importance - that’s boring,” the manager said. “I believe it’s a privilege for our club to be in position like this.
“You work very hard the whole year to be in these positions when March comes. It’s now down to us to be up to it and take it in a positive way and make sure we come out very happy after each game.”
Considering the week ahead, the Gunners’ first win in four games at Hull City on Tuesday night could scarcely have been better timed. Four unanswered goals, with two each for Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, was the perfect aperitif ahead of the main event.
|Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny (both calf), Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (thigh), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Cazorla (Achilles), Ramsey (thigh)
Watford: Britos-Cabrera (hamstring), Cathcart (calf), Jurado Marin (calf), Ekstrand (hamstring)
“What pleased me most was our movement, our mobility, our technical quality, our patience as well, and our discipline offensively and defensively,” Wenger said.
“It was quite convincing and we showed the needed patience to beat a team like that. There were some individual satisfactions as well from players that we know less that slowly emerge and show that they have top quality.
“We go into a very important week now that means a lot to us. We go into the third consecutive year in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and that has a big meaning. We then have Barcelona, where we have not given up. Then we go to Everton on Saturday and we still believe we have a strong chance to fight for the Premier League.
“We have three huge challenges and we know it will be down to how much we will move forward and how much we will be capable of giving. We know there will be small margins in these games and we have to be sure that every small margin goes for us.”
ONE TO WATCH
When Wenger talks of those players who are “slowly emerging to show they have top quality”, it is clear that Alex Iwobi is at the forefront of his mind.
The Nigeria international has been one of the positive surprises of the season, breaking into the first team and impressing with his fluid attacking, range of passing and confidence in his own ability.
Iwobi impressed at the KC Stadium in midweek, and is likely to get his chance again as the Gunners resume their defence of the FA Cup against Watford.
Wenger admits he has been taken aback by the 19-year-old’s impact, but says that despite being a quiet character, he has all the attributes to thrive in the first team.
“A modern, top, top player is a guy who has a good combination of humility and ambition - humility off the pitch and ambition on it,” the manager said. “That makes real champions.
“Alex is a guy who provokes in his game and provokes mistakes from the opponents with the vertical way he plays.
“That can be expressed on the flanks or through the middle. In fact when he was a youth-team player, he only played on the flanks and I put him in the centre because I liked the way he read the game and the speed of his understanding of the game.
“That is why I would put him in the middle, but he can express his talent in every single offensive position.”
While Leicester City’s exploits at the top of the table may be the story of the season, the ease with which Watford look like avoiding relegation demands respect.
|Arsenal have won four of their FA Cup meetings with Watford (L1), including their last clash in the third round, en route to winning the trophy in 2002
The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 21 all-Premier League home FA Cup ties (W15 D6).
Their last such defeat came against Leeds in 1997 Watford have won all three of their FA Cup games this season by a 1-0 scoreline
Quique Flores Sanchez’s side have had some fine results this term and their place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup underlines their progress.
Odion Igahlo and Troy Deeney have proved to be one of the most effective striking partnerships in the Premier League, and their 24 goals between them in all competitions is 85% of the Hornets collective total.
Wenger is well aware of the threat the pair pose to his team’s ambitions on Sunday, and believes keeping them quiet will be vital.
“Deeney is a good link player and Ighalo is a good finisher,” Wenger said. “They have a good understanding. Ighalo moves very well when Deeney has the ball, and Deeney is a very physical player.
“He can upset defenders and create space for Ighalo. I think they are basically two characters who fit well together, and you could see that they enjoy to play together.”
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