In his post-match interview after the FA Cup victory against Aston Villa yesterday, Arsène Wenger had this to say:
[Interviewer:] You named a very strong team for the FA Cup today; are you going all out for the competition this year?
"We have to, you know? And uh...as well I felt that we couldn't...lose another game, because it would just be mentally too hard to take for the players, and that's why I felt as well it's a competition where we have a chance, so let's go for it".
That is probably the most conclusive statement Wenger has made in the past few years about the FA Cup. In years past he has tended to deflect this kind of question by saying that the League is always the top priority, followed by the Champions League. Follow us after the jump for more thoughts:
Granted, the above quote came immediately after a big, big FA Cup win for the club, but it does suggest that Wenger can smell blood now, with Manchester United and Manchester City both out of the cup. Four more wins would bring the cup back to N5. Wenger is known to love the Champions League, but that might be a bridge too far this season. AC Milan are no joke right now, and then after that one is looking down the barrel of either Real Madrid, Chelsea, or Barcelona, possibly, and that's just a bummer time for all.
Much has been made, too, about the implications of finishing outside of the top four in the league. While I don't doubt that the club have contingency plans in place for not being in the Champions League next year, it still makes things quite a bit harder. This is known. There are two routes to getting in, most likely, although one (winning this year's Champions League) is, as noted above, more difficult possibly than finishing fourth this year.
There is no doubt at all that Wenger will devote most of his resources to finishing fourth. He always prioritizes the league above all else. What may have shifted this year is his devotion to the Champions League over the FA Cup. It makes sense, probably, to pour the most effort into a cup where one has to beat Sunderland/Middlesborough, then, in terms of odds, probably some of Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur. Not an easy task, but easier than Madrid, Barca, Bayern, and Chelsea.
Aidan and I discussed this a bit on yesterday's Fusillade podcast, but now I turn the question to you: which competition would you like Arsenal to really push for over the next 4 1/2 months?