By Richard Clarke
Although Arsenal.com is just about the worst place in which to point this out, it is undeniably true that our dear neighbours and rivals Tottenham have won a trophy more recently than Arsène Wenger’s side.
You can argue strongly that the virtues of that 2008 Carling Cup victory pale in comparison to consistent Champions League qualification but the issue is simple.
You cannot put ribbons on a top-four place and parade it to your Town Hall from an open-top bus.
As close as Arsenal got to lifting the title last season and the Champions League trophy in 2006, they have not won anything since the FA Cup four years ago.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s Quarter-Final tie with Hull at Emirates, the manager suggested that the issue certainly rankled with him but, at the same time, he argues his recent failures in this competition were down to simple prioritisation.
“Of course there is a burning desire to put that [record] right,” he said.
“But I believe in 2006 we went very far in the Champions League so it was important to sacrifice the FA Cup, and last year we were in the Premier League race until very late.
“You can see this season that Liverpool, for example, did not play over the weekend but did very well against Real Madrid and then Manchester United. But they had a breather of 10 days before those games because they did not play in the FA Cup. Sometimes the run in the FA Cup conflicts with other interests.”
Of course, Arsenal could be in the same predicament this season. If Wenger’s Champions League or top-four future is at stake then surely the FA Cup will be forsaken once again.
But, for now, it remains the shortest route to silverware. A Semi-Final with Chelsea at Wembley awaits the winner this evening.
However to do that Wenger’s side must exorcise the ghosts of Hull’s 2-1 victory at Emirates Stadium on September 27.
Arsenal were pretty average that day but they thought they had broken the visitors’ resistance when Paul McShane put through his own net at the start of the second half. The bookmakers agreed. At that point Hull were 599-1 to come back and win.
However Geovanni’s thunderbolt and Daniel Cousin’s pin-point header gave a few highly-speculative punters an incredible return on their miniscule outlay.
“It was one of the low points of the season,” admitted Wenger. “But it is not the only one.
“When you are 4-2 up against Tottenham and they come back to 4-4, when you are 2-0 up at Villa but then they come back - they are low points too.
“Still it was a very disappointing day [against Hull] because if we won that game we would have gone top of the League.
“And I don’t want to take anything away from Geovanni’s goal - or Cousin’s header - they were absolutely fantastic. But we could have closed him down easily.”
That wonder win put Hull in the Champions League places but that dream has long since died. Their first eight games brought them 17 points and took them as high as third. The next 19 brought them 15 points and left them just three off the drop zone. However their recent form has picked up a little. They have two wins from their last four games and are undefeated in their last three away trips.
“They are a different side now because at that time they were flowing and full of confidence,” said Wenger. “We weren’t and we were maybe a bit complacent.
“That complacency certainly will not be the case again in this game. We will have more determination and more focus because we know they are a dangerous side.”
Andrey Arshavin was reportedly “desperate” to play despite having eight stitches in the outside of his right foot at half time against Blackburn on Saturday. Twenty minutes later he was scored a stunner with his instep.
Lukasz Fabianksi retains his role as ‘cup keeper’ though Manual Almunia (ankle) would have been out anyway and is a doubt for the League game at Newcastle on Saturday. Kieran Gibbs will come in at left back for Gael Clichy, who is rested. Eduardo (groin) is still out and Aaron Ramsey is also given a breather.
Cesc Fabregas (knee), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring tendon) and Emmanuel Adebayor (hamstring) are the only injuries but expect further rotation from Wenger. The Frenchman made four changes on Saturday, it seems sensible to suggest he’ll make a similar number tonight – and we know two of them already.
Of course, victory at Emirates Stadium would hand Arsenal the first trip to the new Wembley. Their last visit before the re-vamp was for the 1999 Community Shield against Manchester United.
If they make it, it would be the Gunners 26th Semi-Final appearance. Should they win the competition, it would be their 11th FA Cup victory. Both would match Manchester United’s tally.
It would also be a tangible reward for a season which seems set to end immeasurably better than it started.
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