Pre-Match Report

FA Cup: Arsenal v Blackburn - Preview

Emirates Stadium
Emirates Stadium

“It is not like you can choose,” said Arsène Wenger, a slight grimace crossing his face.

“I have said many times that the basic target of the season is the Premier League. The real consistency of the team is the quality and the quality is judged over 38 games.

“So the priority is the Premier League,” said the Arsenal manager. “But our immediate priority is the FA Cup.


“It's just the next game and we want to win. The FA Cup is an important target for us. We always take it very seriously, we're on a good run and we want to continue the run. It's as basic as that.”

We have heard this before but then the Arsenal manager was answering a question he has been asked many times before.

How important is the FA Cup at this busy (and business) time of the season?

If results speak louder than anything (and, frankly, they should) then the answer is “very”.

Yes, Blackburn’s visit to Emirates Stadium in the FA Cup fifth round is overshadowed by the arrival of Bayern Munich on Tuesday.

But overshadowed is not the same as overlooked.

The Arsenal manager was cagey about his team selection and any suggestion he may repeat his ploy at Brighton in the fourth round where he left some big names on the bench in the hope of not using them at all.

Wenger admits that Blackburn have nothing to lose but the manager is proud of the fact he has never lost to lower league opposition at home in his 16 years as Arsenal manager. And the only away defeats during his tenure have come at Burnley in December 2008 and Bradford in December 2012 - both in the latter stages of the League Cup.

Arsenal v Blackburn

Giroud to score first @ 17/5


“We'll play a team with experienced players which has a good chance to go through,” said Wenger. “We only have big names in our squad, so it will be a team of big names, for sure.

“The players who will not start are the players who have played many games recently, especially with the internationals. Thomas Vermaelen had a good rest [while he was out] so he will play. But, of course, he's one of the few options I have at left back [against Bayern].”

Blackburn have had more than their share of upheaval in recent years. For example, Michael Appleton is their third permanent manager of the season.

However just one defeat since Boxing Day has taken the Lancashire side to the fringes of the play-off picture. After relegation last season, an immediate return is possible.

“If you look at Blackburn’s squad they have good players,” said Wenger. “At Brighton in midweek, for example, they had Morten Gamst Pedersen on the bench, and what an influential player he was in the Premier League.

“On top of that they have Danny Murphy, the Olsson brothers, Scott Dann, who has had a long career in the Premier League, and many players who have big experience at that level. These players will get to that level again against us and we will need to deal with it.

“We are the favourites, Blackburn are the outsiders. They have nothing to lose. If you look at who is in the squad, many of their players have Premier League experience, that is why they're dangerous.”

Like most sides recently relegated from the Premier League, Blackburn are in a period of ‘parachute payments’. This is extra money from the top flight that allows a team to financially re-adjust to their new level. It tapers off season-by-season and ends after four campaigns.

"I believe we are a better team today than we were in October and November. But I can talk and talk, we need to show it on the football pitch"

Arsene Wenger

The question for every team in this period is simple - stick or twist. Gamble on funding a quick return or cut their cloth immediately.

At the start of the season, Blackburn pulled off something of a coup by signing highly-rated striker Jordan Rhodes from Huddersfield. Nine goals in his last 10 games suggests the Englishman is bang in form.

In January they added DJ Campbell on loan from QPR, though he is cup-tied for Saturday. However ex-Arsenal youngster David Bentley was signed on loan on the eve of the game and is eligible.

Still, the bedrock is the squad is from last season.

“They’ve lost one or two like Ruben Rochina but they’ve kept the core,” said Wenger.

“If you look at the Championship from 12th to third it’s so tight that every team can hope to come up again. A team like Blackburn, if they get in the play-offs, certainly have a chance because then the experience will come out.”

It is similar for Arsenal in the FA Cup and Champions League. Form, fitness and fighting spirit have all been on their side in recent weeks. Good results have followed.

If they can add long-term consistency, some small positive adjustments and a dash of luck, something could yet happen in their last two realistic avenues for silverware.

But which is more winnable?

“I don’t know really,” replied Wenger. “If you compare the FA Cup to the Premier League then certainly we have more chance because we are too far away in the league.

“But we have a big game on Tuesday against Bayern. If we get past them, then why should we not go further and win the Champions League? It looks at the start that the FA Cup is more reachable than any other competition, but you don't really know how difficult it will be.

“Whatever the competition though we know now is the time when we can show how strong we are. I believe we are a better team today than we were in October and November. But I can talk and talk, we need to show it on the football pitch.”

In the next four days, Arsenal have two massive opportunities to do precisely that.

We are entering a part of the season when pretty much every game shapes those that remain.

It is not just cup football for Arsenal on Saturday, it’s cup football for the remainder of the season.

Team news:

Arsenal: Koscielny (doubt - calf), Wilshere (doubt - thigh), Vermaelen (ankle), Gibbs (thigh), Jenkinson (suspended)

Blackburn: Campbell (cup-tied) Henley (hamstring), King (hamstring), Etuhu (knee), Robinson (back), Best (knee) Dunn (calf)

See Full List

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