Pre-Match Report

FA Cup: Arsenal v Burnley - Match Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Chris Harris

If you believe the bookies - and they're not often wrong - Arsenal's best chance of ending the season with silverware lies with the FA Cup.

The Gunners are a staggering 250/1 for the title, a tempting 11/1 for the Champions League and only 4/1 to lift the famous old trophy at Wembley in May. If they do get their hands on a cup, Arsène Wenger's side will be following in the footsteps of some of English football's most successful sides.

George Graham's Arsenal lifted the League Cup in 1987, Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United scooped the FA Cup in 1990 and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea won the Carling Cup in 2005. All three wins created camaraderie, all three built momentum - and all three clubs secured the League title within three years of their initial triumph.

This season's FA Cup could serve as an equally effective launchpad for Wenger's young side. The Frenchman is convinced that his team can challenge for every honour in the seasons to come and he sees the FA Cup as a significant stepping stone on the road to greater things.

"I am a great believer that this team will win everything - but the earlier the better," Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.

"What is most important is that I am confident we will have the complete focus to do it. We are not far from the end [of that road], but that's where your winning attitude is tested as well, when the pressure becomes bigger and bigger. How will we respond to that? I am confident we will respond well."

Burnley stand between Arsenal and another home tie against Hull City in the FA Cup Quarter-Finals and the Clarets won't be taken lightly. Owen Coyle's attack-minded team have already dispatched West Brom in this season's competition and, lest we forget, beat Fulham, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal in the Carling Cup this term.

Wenger could not help but be impressed by Burnley's performance at Turf Moor in December when goalkeeper Brian Jensen kept them out at one end while Kevin MacDonald scored twice at the other to secure a famous 2-0 victory. Arsenal's manager rates Burnley - and he thinks the entire Championship has made a big step forward.

"It is much better than five years ago and much better than three years ago," said Wenger. It improves every year because there are so many foreign players and that means many good English players have to go down to the Championship. As a result the level has gone up so much so it is different for every Premier League clubs to beat them.

"Sometimes when you are away in a hotel we can watch Championship games on Friday night and sometimes on Sunday before we play. It is a good level I must say and it is a little bit like the Premier League because every team is difficult to beat.

"You know we experienced that with Plymouth in the Third Round. They are fighting not to go down but it was a difficult game for us.

"The gap between the Premier League and the Championship is closing. You look at the teams who have come up this year and usually all three went down straight away. Now there are 10 games to go and maybe West Brom is favourites to go down but the other two teams - Hull and Stoke - have as many chances to stay up as the other teams.

"As for Burnley, they have fantastic teamwork and good drive going forward and a good technical level. I think they have very good mobility.

"They play with natural width and Chris Eagles is a very good player. He has done very well against us and we need to keep him quiet. But Gibbs knows him well now and Gibbs will certainly play on Sunday. It will be a good task for him."

Gibbs will be one of the beneficiaries of Wenger's rotation policy in the FA Cup while Lukasz Fabianski will resume his role as 'Cup keeper' on Sunday. But the big team news is the expected return of Theo Walcott, who hasn't played since dislocating his shoulder while on international duty in November. Eduardo will also feature if he shrugs off the hamstring injury he suffered during his comeback game last month while William Gallas is fit to replace Kolo Toure, who limped out of the Hawthorns in midweek with a calf problem.

Next week's Champions League return leg at Roma looms large but, for now, the FA Cup is the only thing on Wenger's mind.

"It is an important game and it is not one we will treat lightly. We treat it with respect and focus," he said.

"First of all, we want to keep our run going. The best way to go into the next game against Roma is to win on Sunday. The best way to prepare is to win the game before.

"The FA Cup still has its magic. It has the magic of being qualified and the magic of going to Wembley - it has a historical significance as well. It means having something special in your daily life, something that suddenly happens which keeps everybody focused."

If Arsenal do stay focused, that 4/1 might look rather generous come May.

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