Arsenal face Blackburn today as FA Cup action returns to the Emirates. Arsenal now enter into a crucial run of six games which may well define the club’s season as all three competitions are up for grabs in the next month.
Wenger is clear that the team will retain focus, due to the fact this is a cup tie, even though there will be the inevitable distraction of the big Champions League game against Bayern on Tuesday.
“If you play a cup game you know if you win you are through. But if you play a championship game it’s just the usual thing and you could already have your mind on Tuesday night. I don’t think in a cup game it pays a big part in it.”
Indeed there’s much riding on this period. The FA Cup was the last trophy the club won before they entered the current drought, and there are many who regularly suggest this might be Wenger’s best chance of silverware. This season that is as true as ever, and a triumph of this type might prove to be a catalyst for this embryonic Arsenal side.
Kicking off at Blackburn Arsenal will enter 540 minutes of football in which the club will being playing for the FA Cup, Champions League and Premier League position, with games against Tottenham and Everton. Within four weeks we will understand this team’s chances of success this season, and with it the potential of the longer term impact, whether negative or positive.
In that context, this match will set the tone, and will be important in maintaining confidence ahead of this difficult run.
Blackburn sit at eighth in the Championship currently, but have been through a raft of changes since the buyout by Venky’s, and are still a different animal to that led by Steve Kean last year. Now on their third manager of the season they are attempting to build stability at the club in the shape of new manager Michael Appleton, incidentally the only manager to have been in charge of three different teams in the FA Cup in the same season.
Results against Arsenal prior to their relegation last season were mixed, with a 7-1 at home, but the early season 4-3 defeat away (which incidentally saw the only goal during Chamakh’s long drought). Arsenal need to ensure that defensive brittleness does not occur this time round.
Thomas Vermaelen should return to the side after his injury problems, but Wilshere may not start due to a thigh problem. We may well see further changes as some names are rested ahead of the Bayern tie, and others get a run out in preparation.
Arsenal are on odds of 1.28 to win against the Championship side, and indeed have never lost to a lower league side in the FA Cup under Wenger. However, all too often this team has provided surprises, as Wenger mentioned, retaining focus will be key.
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This period has defined Arsenal’s season over the last few years, and inevitably will do so this time around. Ultimately the team must take one game at a time, maintain focus and aim to fulfil their potential. Blackburn are the first test.