“A cup final is a cup final. What is at stake here is the Premier League and that is vital for us. We want to grab the opportunity we have on Sunday and forget absolutely completely about the cup final for now.”
There are 450 minutes left of football in Arsenal's season. You can make a convincing case that the 180 against Hull City will be definitive.
Arsène Wenger has had a fine week. A couple of comebacks against Wigan and West Ham (followed by Everton’s defeat by Crystal Palace) has put his side in the aforementioned FA Cup final and back in prime position for Champions League qualification.
|Arsenal: Ozil (doubt - hamstring), Monreal (doubt - dead leg), Gibbs (groin/hamstring), Gnabry (knee), Wilshere (foot), Diaby (doubt - knee), Walcott (knee)
Hull City: McGregor (kidney), Brady (groin), McShane (ankle), Dudgeon (knee)
Hull await at Wembley on May 17 and, before that, at the KC Stadium on Easter Sunday in a game of huge importance. An Arsenal win would mean that Everton kick off their game with Manchester United immediately afterwards a full four points behind.
Pressure produces funny results at this time of year. That is why Wenger was happy enough to field his oldest Premier League side in 10 years (average age 29 years 188 days) against West Ham.
“Experience helps you to deal better with pressure because you know what is expected and you can focus in a more efficient way to express your potential,” he said.
“We kept our nerve when we were 1-0 down against West Ham. I believe that there was a strong, silent resilience. We didn't let them disturb our game, we responded quickly before half-time and overall had good control in the second half with a convincing win. You could see the lift that we got from winning on Saturday in the semi-final. It had an influence on the psychological and the mental front because we had a much more serene attitude.
“Had we lost on Saturday, we would certainly have tired legs. The fact that we won gave us a big lift. And the players who had not played on Saturday - like Kallstrom, Giroud and Koscielny - contributed well physically.”
As well as the return of Mathieu Flamini after suspension, there is another potential boost this weekend. Mesut Ozil faces a fitness test and may be involved after more than a month out.
“It's important to have him back because he's an offensive player who is important in the final third,” said Wenger. “He still has the most assists and therefore he can put our strikers in good positions. That link between the deep midfield and the strikers is important.”
Hull are virtually assured of playing in the Premier League next season. After promotion from the Championship last season, surely success was defined as staying up by whatever means possible. In fact, it has been more straightforward than that. Reaching the FA Cup is the footballing ‘cherry on top’.
The unsung hero of their campaign has been captain Curtis Davies; an elegant centre back who seemed destined for stardom a few years ago but then somewhat disappeared from view.
“I think he was out for a while,” said Wenger. “He had a bad injury. But, yes, he was a young, promising defender and I'm not surprised that he's coming back now with experience.
“Physically he has always been very strong and he was a bit impetuous when he was younger. But when you have that drive when you're young and you mix that with experience now then you become efficient later in your career. I think that's what happened to him.
“Overall I feel Hull have had a good season because they are in the cup final and they are safe in the Premier League. That is remarkable for a club like them. At Christmas they brought in Shane Long and Nikita Jelavic who have done well for them. So they have a good offensive force.
"You could see the lift that we got from winning the semi-final. It had an influence on the psychological and the mental front"
“And their manager Steve Bruce has done remarkably well this season. Everybody would agree with that I think.”
In fact Wenger picked out his opposite number on Sunday and Tony Pulis, whose midweek win at Everton opened the Champions League door for Arsenal, as his managers of the year.
The Frenchman could complete a creditable campaign himself if he can lead his side to a top-four finish and the FA Cup.
The latter can wait; the former is today’s concern. The trip to Hull will be followed by a pair of home games against Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion with a week’s worth of rest and recuperation in between.
These past few days should chasten, once again, those who predict with over-confidence.
But Sunday’s game ‘feels’ massive for Arsenal.
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