It’s FA Cup weekend and no doubt there will be a few Arsenal supporters who would prefer to be jumping in the car and making their way along a motorway to some third division ground or what ever that league is called nowadays; in fact, when I think about it, there are probably quite a few but no matter how many — they don’t include me. I am one of a growing number who are happy that we have this weekend off. This break gives the team more than just a much needed opportunity to recharge their batteries: it ensures that they avoid unnecessary injuries ahead of the all important game against Porto on Wednesday.
Wenger has clearly made a conscious decision to prioritise the Champions League over the fading glory of the FA Cup, rightly so, and not before time in my opinion. I am convinced that he looks back to middle of this decade and recalls the exceptional talent that he assembled and regrets allowing the FA Cup to divide and therefore dilute his and his teams’ attention away from the vastly more important Champions League.
Yes, we won our games and went on to make our annual pilgrimage to Cardiff, a city in which I visited so many times I still exchange Christmas cards with a certain hotelier on the outskirts of the town. But in addition to making trips to Wales I also went to many of the away games in European — I still do and if there were a choice between Stoke and Porto, there would only be one winner.
For too long, progressing in the FA Cup on weekends like this has provided Wenger’s teams with a false sense of security. It acted as a safety-net and therefore an excuse to be able to fail in the infinitely more important Champions League.
This should never be allowed to happen again, the FA Cup needs to be culled early; it must never again be allowed to act as a prop. No Arsenal team should be put in a position in which their total focus is taken away from the aim of winning the Champions League.
I remember watching the film Doctor Zhivago with my Dad many years ago and asking him why the Bolsheviks felt the need to kill the Russian royal family including the children, being a child myself at the time I remember the stark answer: to make it absolutely clear to everyone that there was no going back.
It has taken Wenger longer than he should to adopt this brutalist way of thinking about the FA Cup, I suspect that he regrets not doing it when he had the likes of Henry, Pires, Begkamp and Vieira. This group of players should have achieved so much more in Europe than they did and had their security blanket in the form of the FA Cup been wrenched away at an earlier stage, forcing them to give the Champions League their undivided attention, I feel certain that they would have.
The current crop of players, I am sure you would agree, couldn’t hold a candle to those which is even more reason why all their efforts should be focused on just one cup competition. I want the players to know the harsh reality that when they approach Wednesday’s game that there is no going back, there is no FA Cup safety-net, no security blanket, no fall back position; glory lies with the Champions league.