“We fight the whole season to be in these kind of positions. You want the opportunity to show your strengths - we have that now.”
Very often, football is overblown; hype precedes hysteria precedes reaction at ill-judged haste.
Not this week.
This week is undeniably, indisputably massive.
It comprises three games in three different competitions. A trio of victories might go as far as to rekindle speculation about an Arsenal treble, three defeats would leave a diminished chance of one solitary trophy.
|Arsenal: Koscielny (doubt - hamstring), Monreal (doubt - foot), Wilshere (foot), Ramsey (thigh), Kallstrom (back), Walcott (knee), Diaby (knee)Everton: Alcarez (doubt - muscle), Jagielka (hamstring), Traore (hamstring), Kone (knee), Oviedo (broken leg), Gibson (knee)|
There’s Tottenham (a) next Sunday, the second leg of the Champions League tie on Tuesday but, before all that, the FA Cup quarter-final against Everton at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal have been fortunate to have home draws throughout the first four rounds. Something that has not happened since 1950 when a Reg Lewis’ brace would see Tom Whittaker’s side beat Liverpool in the final.
The Anfield side were knocked out at the last stage by Arsenal this year and Tottenham had to be seen off in the third round. Given a highly-rated Everton put in one of the most impressive Premier League performances by an away side at Emirates during their 1-1 draw just before Christmas, Arsenal’s fortune ended when their ball was extracted first from the velvet bag.
“We are strong at the Emirates and we have another opportunity to show that,” commented Wenger. “I said that a part of our fate will be decided there - a big part of it in fact. We responded well to that and we have another chance to show that against Everton.
“It was a very interesting game in the Premier League in December and they caught us back very late with a great goal.
“I watched that game again recently and we had opportunities once we were 1-0 up but we wanted to protect our advantage and we were punished.
“But they are a good team, everybody knows that. That's why as well it's important we just focus on the quality of our performance on our side because we know that will be needed to beat them. I'm quite confident that, despite the fact that the players have been away on international duty, this game is on their minds.
“We had such a disappointing result at Stoke and a non-convincing performance offensively so we need a great response. What we produced last week was not good enough.”
"I felt that he had come to the point mentally and physically where he needed a breather... Now, of course, he has to be back being focused and highly motivated"
Roberto Martinez arrives at Emirates as an FA Cup holder. The Spaniard lifted the trophy with Wigan before his summer move to Everton and, if a manager’s job is get the most out of his resources, the 40-year-old earned his exalted reputation on that remarkable run last season. Not least in the final when Wigan beat the mighty Manchester City with Ben Watson’s late header.
In the Premier League this season, Everton have been notoriously hard to beat. Only Chelsea have lost fewer games. However four of Everton’s five losses have come since Boxing Day and their European chances, so realistic for so long, have begun to fade.
Wenger is likely to stick with Lukasz Fabianski in goal. The Pole has a big week himself given he’ll figure in Munich as Wojciech Szczesny is suspended.
Mesut Ozil’s workload has been managed carefully in recent weeks so he is fresh for this crucial period. The manager intimated the German would start on Saturday.
“I felt that he had come to the point mentally and physically where he needed a breather,” said Wenger. “That's why I made that decision.
“Now, of course, he has to be back being focused and highly motivated.”
That applies to the team as well.
A good week won’t secure trophies but bad one will cost them…
… and the Everton game could set the tone.
Come on you Gunners.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
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