Arsenal must win the FA Cup and finish fourth

For years now, Arsenal fans have been presented with the question that has almost become embodied with the club, despite being widely adopted as some sort of butt joke by opposing fans.

Would, the dilemma goes, Arsenal fans swap the financial security and the glamour of Champions League football for a trophy or not?

When the draw for the FA Cup semifinal was made, the two options didn’t appear to be mutually exclusive, for the Gunners sat third in the Premier League, a comfortable 11-point clear of then seventh-placed Everton.

Five games and two embarrassing defeats – against Chelsea and Everton – later, Arsenal could finish the weekend outside the top four if Everton win away at Sunderland which, given the sides’ contrasting form, is not hard to envisage.

Arsenal, of course, could also be within 90 minutes of a first trophy in nine years come Sunday night but as Manchester City would be more than capable of testify, an FA Cup encounter with Wigan is far from being a straightforward matter.

For almost a decade Arsenal have catastrophically fluffed their lines at the crucial stage, perhaps none more ludicrously than in the 2011 Carling Cup final, and a season that promised so much could yet again yield absolutely nothing.

Arsene Wenger has come under immense pressure in the past for prioritising Champions League qualification over winning a trophy, particularly as the Gunners have never looked good enough to clinch a maiden European Cup under the Frenchman.

Over the last five seasons in domestic cups Arsenal have lost twice to Chelsea and Manchester City and suffered defeats against Manchester United, Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn and Sunderland.

While defeats against Chelsea, City and United could be accepted, losses to Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn and Sunderland were partly helped by Wenger’s decision to field second string starting XIs, with the Frenchman opting to rest his best players for the Champions League.

Against Wigan, though, Wenger can’t afford any such luxury, for while Arsenal could still finish in the top four, their destiny is no longer in their hands but in Everton’s and were Wenger to place all his eggs in a Champions League-shaped basket, Arsenal fans’ patience could grow even thinner.

Finishing outside the top four would obviously be a huge blow to Arsenal’s aspirations and finance, not to mention that it’d make it harder for Wenger to attract world class talents in the summer and a Europa League campaign could hinder Arsenal’s progress next season.

Ultimately, however, football is about winning trophies and a club like Arsenal tolerating a decade-long trophy drought is unheard of.

Even more importantly, as far as Wenger is concerned, a trophy would work wonders for the psyche of a team that too often looks paralysed by fear when it matters the most and while the FA Cup might not longer possess the aura and glamour it once did, it’d be a starting point.

Furthermore, Arsenal’s run-in sees them playing West Ham, Newcastle and West Bromwich at home, with a trip to Hull sandwiched in between, before they conclude their campaign at Norwich. Arsenal will face three teams with nothing left to play for, one – Hull – that will probably be focused on an FA Cup final, with only Norwich, desperate to avoid relegation, looking to pose a threat to the Gunners.

That is as easy a run-in as Wenger could have hoped for and Arsenal should not prioritise finishing fourth over winning the FA Cup, nor should their FA Cup run offer them an alibi should they miss out on Champions League qualification.

Winning trophies and clinching a Champions League spot aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s what big clubs should aspire to do regularly.

 

 

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