Arsene Wenger has hit back at the suggestion that Arsenal’s seasons tend to fall apart in the all-important month of March. Arsenal began the month in the worst way by losing 1-0 at Stoke City to fall four points off the pace in the Premier League. They now face a crucial run of fixtures in the coming weeks, with matches against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City in the league after the second leg of their Champions League tie with Bayern Munich and beginning with an FA Cup quarterfinal at home to Everton on Saturday.
While memories will still be fresh of Arsenal’s collapse in 2008, when Eduardo’s injury against Birmingham saw them go from the verge of an eight-point lead in February to a third-place finish, statistics show that it has been the club’s most productive month in the league under Wenger. Last season in March, Arsenal began a run of eight wins and two draws from their final 10 matches to qualify for the Champions League.
And Wenger took umbrage with a question about Arsenal fading away in March and claimed that they are in a better position than ever to end their nine-year wait for a major trophy.
"No, I don't agree with you [that we dip in March]," he said, according to Arsenal.com. "[The lack of trophies] has nothing to do [with it] because you can lose the championship in October. If you can show me with numbers that in March we have dipped away, we can have a conversation."
“What is different [this season] is that we are in a better position to do it; that is the first thing," he added. "The second thing is that we are ready for a battle, and to show that on the pitch we are ready for this battle. Overall that is what's different, to show that we have matured mentally."
Wenger lifted the FA Cup four times in his first nine years at Arsenal, but the match with Everton presents a chance for him to reach their first semifinal since 2009.
His counterpart on Saturday, Roberto Martinez, has enjoyed much more recent success in the competition. Having lifted the FA Cup with Wigan last May, he will surely be dreaming about the prospect of becoming the first manager to win the competition in successive years with two different clubs. His current club last won the trophy in 1995, the same year that Martinez’s relationship with the competition began when he arrived from Spain as a player with Wigan.
"The first time I got involved with the FA Cup was back in 1995, so that's a long, long time I've been enjoying this tournament and falling in love with the tournament,” he said, according to Everton’s official website. “I think it's unique and the best cup competition in world football.”
Like Arsenal, Everton’s form has suffered a dip in recent weeks. A run of three defeats in four Premier League matches mean they have slipped a long way back in the race for a Champions League place. Still, they did get a win last time out against West Ham, secured via a goal-scoring return for striker Romelu Lukaku.
At the other rend of the pitch, Everton still have a major doubt over the fitness of captain Phil Jagielka. Fellow defender Antolin Alcaraz is, though, ready for a return.
Arsenal have announced that Jack Wilshere will miss at least six weeks after suffering a hairline fracture in his left foot during England’s friendly with Denmark. It means Arsenal’s midfield options are further limited, with Aaron Ramsey and Kim Kallstrom still a week away from a return. Wenger also has a doubt about the fitness of Laurent Koscielny who was forced to sit out France’s clash with the Netherlands with a hamstring problem.
Where to watch: The FA Cup quarterfinal will kick off from the Emirates Stadium at 7.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1, with a live stream available via Fox Soccer 2Go.