Much has been made of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s preference for fourth place in the Premier League, and therefore Champions League qualification, over an FA Cup final win.
It is an opinion which many Gunners fans also hold – entry into Europe’s elite competition is not only vital for boosting the club’s financial coffers, but also acts as a temptation to lure in the continent’s best footballers.
However there are plenty of supporters, both of Arsenal and of other football clubs, who crave the glory that reaching the showpiece of a cup competition can bring; the carnival atmosphere which inevitably infiltrates a cup final and the momentum such a run can generate which, in itself, can give league form a boost.
Arsenal’s 2-2 draw against Swansea City in the FA Cup third round on Sunday has received mixed reviews across the wide spectrum of Gunners fans. Michael Laudrup’s side rested several key men in the match and the expectation from some Arsenal fans was that Wenger would guide the team safely into the next round with relative ease.
That was not to be but there are positives to take from the match. Attention will now turn to the Emirates Stadium, where the replayed fixture will take place later this month. The Swans may have beaten Arsenal 2-0 in north London in December, but the home side will still be favourites to progress to the fourth round.
Also encouraging was Wenger’s selection of a strong team. While Laudrup had seen the game as an ideal moment to rest some of his indispensable names, Wenger was determined to counter that with a very strong side.
Surely, this is a positive sign? Wenger has been criticised in the past for not taking English cup competitions seriously in recent times but the fact that Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and others were called upon means that, for the first time in a long time, Arsenal can be optimistic about their chances in a cup competition.
Much has been made of the lengthy period between the last time Arsenal collected silverware to store in the Emirates Stadium museum and the current day, currently standing at a grisly eight years. But Arsenal fans have made their feelings known and the fact that the Gunners remain in the FA Cup, despite a valiant effort from Swansea, should be celebrated. Past Arsenal teams would have buckled under the pressure of a knockout situation.
Arsenal are, of course, still in the Champions League picture at the moment. The chances of success there though are minimal, leaving the FA Cup as Arsene Wenger’s sole hope for silverware this season. He needs to have a good stab at winning it – for many, a fourth place finish is not enough.
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