Premier League, Champions League or FA Cup: Which prize will Arsenal have its eyes on?
Should Wenger risk his top players in Saturday's FA Cup game or save them for a run at the EPL title?
To be, or not to be? That is the question. Well, not in exactly those words, but Arsene Wenger does face an existential question going into this Saturday’s FA Cup fixture. Should he push for what would be a remarkable FA Cup treble? Or, sitting atop the league, should he conserve his troops for the longer road ahead till May? There is also the more dubious question of what to do with the upcoming Champions League encounters with Barcelona. As some would say, those are interesting problems to have.
To win an FA Cup is in some ways harder than to win the league. This might seem completely counterintuitive. However, think about it. Let us say you have by far the best and deepest squad in the league. The chances of finishing at the top after all the ups and downs of a 38 game schedule are extremely high.
However, one slip is all it takes for that same squad to be out of the Cup. No combination of strength and depth can prevent that one slip. To pull it off twice in a row is absolutely astounding. The chances of a “three-peat”, as it is called in American English, must be astronomical.
Do Arsenal stand a chance in the Champions League?
On paper, just about everyone would rate the odds of victory over Barcelona as pretty much astronomical as well. I may be one of the few who thinks otherwise. The reason for my foolish optimism is based on the paradoxical fact that the Gunners somehow put up a very credible challenge to Barca.
Perhaps it is the similarity of style; lately, it is the newfound strategy of counter-attacking football against the heavyweights. Barcelona’s backline play a high line and are vulnerable to a long ball over the top, or a swift counter-attack. We have that kind of speed in Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Hecotr Bellerin.
Most of all, we have Petr Cech, who can frustrate all the wizardry of Barca with one big paw or a foot stuck out at the right time. Having said all that, it only gets us to the last eight, with endless heavyweights in our way.
Should Wenger focus more on the Premier League title?
Last, but not least, we come to the most cherished prize of all, the EPL. For once in over a decade, not only do we sit atop the league, but also all the buzz among the pundits has swung from the dazzling squads assembled in summer to old values like stability and coherence.
Suddenly Wenger’s obstinacy in holding on to a “lesser” core of players not sought after by the giants and adding, almost grudgingly, some real talent like Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Cech looks like a stroke of genius.
Let us not get carried away. Arsenal are still vulnerable (upgraded from porous) in defence and are still prone to inconsistency. Fortunately, this season, everyone else looks much worse. Therein lies the tempting dream coursing through every Gunner fan’s head – can we pull it off this time. Give me an Elneny and I can move the earth!
What can Arsenal expect in the FA Cup?
This isn’t just any FA Cup tie. We are going up against Sunderland and we are going up against our nemesis, Sam Allardyce, the architect of the push and pummel strategy that first derailed The Invincibles and has since been copied by every football team from the tiniest hamlets across the land.
Big Sam is back again, this time with a relegation threatened squad. Is he going to dazzle us with superb football or will he go back to Plan A? Think back to that disastrous outing in the League Cup. Fast forward to Liverpool against Stoke this week. Do you really want to risk an injury to Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, or to the fragile Walcott for an astronomical chance of winning the FA Cup, with the EPL title genuinely within reach?
For once, keep your eyes on the prize, Mr. Wenger.