By Chris Harris
“We have enough confidence, enough desire, so let’s turn up with a positive performance. It’s a good challenge to try and win three in a row and we’ll take it on.”
The last time the FA Cup was won by the same club in three consecutive seasons, Arsenal didn’t exist.
The Gunners were just a glint in David Danskin’s eye when Blackburn Rovers saw off West Bromwich Albion in a replay on April 10, 1886, after squeezing past Oswaldtwistle Rovers and beating Darwen Old Wanderers, Stanley, Brentwood and Swifts to reach the final.
Fast forward 130 years and history beckons for Arsenal. Back-to-back Wembley wins over Hull City and Aston Villa leaves them six victories away from emulating Blackburn (and Wanderers, who achieved their own ‘three-peat’ in 1878).
The FA Cup has been good to Arsene Wenger and his fondness for the competition can be traced back to his childhood. But he knows how precarious that road to Wembley can be.
|Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee), Coquelin (knee), Cazorla (knee), Alexis (hamstring)
Sunderland: Larsson (knee), Rodwell (hamstring), Matthews (ankle), Kaboul (hamstring)
“Everybody wants to achieve something special but the best way to do it is to go step by step,” he told Arsenal Player. “We play against a Premier League team and we have learnt in the last 20 games that any Premier League team is a massive problem to face. The only way to deal with it is to give absolutely everything.
“It’s a good challenge [to try and win three in a row] and we’ll take it on. We have the desire to do well and to do it again. Let’s see how we get on in the first test and let’s deal with that. We have enough confidence, enough desire, so let’s turn up with a positive performance.
“The FA Cup has been fantastic for me,” added Wenger. “When I was a child I dreamed of winning the FA Cup and now, when I look back, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to Wembley so many times.
“It’s always a special moment but this is a new start all over again. It’s a long journey to get there and that’s why we have good memories. We want to start well again.”
ONE TO WATCH
Expect changes on Saturday, but not many.
As a rule of thumb, Arsenal’s substitutes for the game before the FA Cup third round have a decent chance of starting the cup tie. That brings Joel Campbell, Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers, David Ospina, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Alex Iwobi into the frame, along with the fit-again Mikel Arteta.
But while Wenger sees the need to rotate - especially with a midweek trip to Liverpool looming large - he won’t endanger his team’s cohesion. “I’m not a big fan of rotating too much,” he said. “At the moment I make two or three changes maximum.”
That would appear to rule out Reine-Adelaide, in sublime form for the under-21s on Tuesday, and Iwobi, who was granted a few seconds against Bournemouth and was primed to come on against Newcastle when Laurent Koscielny’s goal forced a change of tactics.
If Wenger does turn to his teenagers, he’s convinced they are ready for the big stage.
“When you can turn up when you have 60,000 people around you that is what is at stake,” he said. “Overall both of them can deal with that.
“I have young players who excite me very much in the academy, and [Reine-Adelaide] looks like he is ready physically to cope with the challenges and the intensity of them.
“He looks older, mature enough to cope with the physical challenges of the Premier League and he has the technique as well. What is exciting is that he can run with the ball, he can pass the ball, he can resist challenges and that is very interesting.”
The first of Wenger’s 97 FA Cup games was against Sunderland in 1997.
The Arsenal manager’s memory of that tie is hazy - although he recalls Dennis Bergkamp’s exquisite drag-back and curler into the top corner - but it kicked off an unbeaten third-round run that has endured for 19 years.
|The last time these two sides met in the FA Cup, Sunderland eliminated Arsenal in February 2012, courtesy of a 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light.
Arsenal have not lost an FA Cup tie in 12 games, since Blackburn beat them 1-0 in February 2013 at the Emirates in the Fifth Round.
No manager has won the FA Cup more times than Arsene Wenger (6). His first game in the competition was against Sunderland in the Third Round in 1997.
Arsenal are odds-on to make that 20 with Sunderland expected to play the squad rotation card rather more strongly than their hosts, but Wenger knows better than to expect favours from one of his oldest adversaries, Sam Allardyce.
“They are a team who have turned up with some great performances recently and I think their belief is reinstated,” said Wenger.
“For a while they lacked confidence but Sam Allardyce has managed again to give them belief and they have shown that against us [in December]. It was a difficult game. We gave them some chances but in the end we managed to win 3-1 but it was a very difficult game.
“We know that if you want to deal well today with a Premier League opponent the first thing you do is not look at the table, because that does not tell you anything about the quality of your opponent. Just prepare yourself to face a tough game and to give everything and that is the only way to go.”
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