Arsene Wenger has insisted that Arsenal are taking the FA Cup seriously as they prepare to begin their quest to land the trophy for a third successive season at home to Sunderland on Saturday. Arsenal ended a nine-year wait for silverware when winning the FA Cup two years ago and backed up that success with victory over Aston Villa in last year’s final.
No team has won the world’s oldest cup competition three times in a row since the 19th century. But currently top of the Premier League and in with a real chance of winning a first league championship in 12 years, it would be understandable were it to be relegated down Arsenal’s list of priorities. Wenger, though, insists they will be going all out to claim victory one again at Wembley in May.
“Being the holders, we won it twice in the last two years, we want to stay in the competition and do it again if possible,” Wenger said in his pre-match press conference.
“My energy is to give absolutely everything to win the next game. The next game is the FA Cup. At our level you do not commit and when you don’t. This is a serious competition. I’ve won the FA Cup six times - that means I take it seriously. In the whole history, nobody won it more. That means as well that it’s not so easy to win it. You want to feel as well that your team is ready for every single challenge and the FA Cup is one that matters to us.”
There have been plenty of complaints from managers about a schedule that sees a full list of Premier League fixtures schedule in the midweek following the third round. Wenger, however, played down the issue, despite his side facing a trip to Liverpool next Wednesday. There may still be some rotation against Sunderland, and Wenger’s numbers will be boosted by the return to fitness of captain Mikel Arteta, However, Alexis Sánchez , Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky remain sidelined.
Sunderland have their own fitness issues, with Younes Kaboul and former Arsenal midfielder Sebastian Larsson unavailable, and manager Sam Allardyce has revealed that he will be fielding a much-changed lineup at the Emirates Stadium. Sitting in 19th place in the Premier League table and desperate for every point if they are to escape relegation, Allardyce has made it clear which competition he will be prioritizing.
“Unfortunately we have restrictions which mean fitting in a Premier League the midweek after, which doesn’t give us the opportunity to play the strongest team at Arsenal,” he said, reports Sunderland’s official website. “What it does do is give a fantastic opportunity to some of the squad players.
“If we can stay in the FA Cup that would be great but I have to consider the fact we play Swansea away midweek and then play Tottenham away after that, so we’re probably facing the hardest week of the season.”
Prediction: Sunderland caused Arsenal some difficulty at the Emirates in the Premier League last month, briefly pulling level before the home side went onto win 3-1. But with Allardyce intent on making wholescale changes and sending a clear message that the FA Cup ranks a distant second to the Premier League for his club, Arsenal should emerge with a very comfortable win this time around.
Predicted Score: Arsenal 3-0 Sunderland
Kickoff Time: 10 a.m. EST
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1