Arsène Wenger faces a season-defining game against Bayern Munich in the Champions' League on Tuesday after seeing his Arsenal side eliminated from the FA Cup at home by Blackburn Rovers.
The Frenchman gambled and lost with his selection policy yesterday, resting key first-team players Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla, who had to be introduced as substitutes in any case late in the match. Unless the club can win the Champions' League, Arsenal's barren spell without a major trophy will stretch into a ninth year. But many will wonder what chance they can possibly have against the Bundesliga's runaway leaders if they can lose at home to a Blackburn team who have won only three Championship games on the road.
The FA Cup is the competition in which Arsenal most recently tasted victory, beating Manchester United on penalties in 2005, and it offered the most realistic hope of a trophy in 2013 until Colin Kazim-Richards, a boyhood Arsenal fan who is on loan from Galatasaray, scuffed in a fortunate winner after 72 minutes of a game that Arsenal had dominated. Blackburn had lost 7-1 on their previous visit to the Emirates Stadium, in the Premier League last season.
Yesterday, they became the first team from a lower division to put Arsenal out of the FA Cup since Wenger became manager, and they did so in the same season that Bradford City eliminated them from the Capital One Cup on penalties.
Wenger, though, had no regrets about his team selection. "No, we had 11 international players on the pitch at the start," said the Arsenal manager. "We had a lot of the ball and they defended well. We had 70 per cent of the ball and 16 shots. They had one. It is painful and disappointing to lose a game like that. It is very difficult to accept, but today it has happened. It has happened to many Premier League teams.
"This season is not over. It is a good opportunity to show we are men and have character. It's our job to lift the players. To feel sorry for ourselves would be wrong."
However, Wenger's words drew immediate criticism from the former England striker Gary Lineker, who tweeted: "Do not understand this resting players, rotation policy. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo play every game and never seem to get tired."
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