Arsenal v Coventry: Fabulous Arsenal form could be ruined by FA Cup exit, warns Wenger

Arsenal’s run would be at risk from Cup defeat to Coventry

Memories etched in sepia of a flawless Wembley pitch and a pearl-like ball, its surface devoid of laces, maintain their gentle pull on the heartstrings of Arsène Wenger. As a football-mad youth in Alsace-Lorraine, the annual FA Cup final broadcast was the staple that fostered his love of the English game.

The idea that he might take tonight’s engagement against fallen Coventry lightly insults his attachment to the grand old pot that did so much to fire the imagination of those looking through the May keyhole from afar, as well as bind this country to its national sport.

Arsenal are in, says Wenger, the “moment of a lifetime”, by which he means at an optimum point in the evolution of this team where anything is possible. Wenger would not want to ruin the moment by emulating the experience of last year when Arsenal were dumped out in the fifth round by Blackburn Rovers of the Championship.

“When you are on a run it is important not to interrupt it with a setback,” said Wenger. “That is what is at stake. Every win makes the team stronger and more confident. We do not want to be up and down and up and down. It is important we continue our consistent run. The team is growing in confidence. It is important not to question yourselves again, ‘are we good enough?’

“February is an important month where we play all the big teams so it is important to build up our strength and to trust our consistency. Last year’s [defeat] was a big disappointment. It was the first time in 16 years that we lost against lower-league opposition in the FA Cup. It was a great warning. At the moment it’s just our next game and we want to win it.”

The arrival of Coventry at the Emirates provides another nostalgic tweak to the Wenger landscape, and a reminder of the dangers of overexposure in the pursuit of footballing dreams. When he assumed the throne at Arsenal, Coventry were a Premier League opponent of some substance.

“I know much more than you think about Coventry City,” he said. “First of all, when I arrived here they were one of the good teams. I had many difficult games against them. We have to prepare seriously for this game. We want to gain respect, and through our attitude that is the best way to gain respect.”

The Frenchman’s attachment to the competition further endears him to football’s mother country. Delivered in his accented Wengerisms, his love of the oldest knockout competition in the game is a lesson in curation and restates the value of history and tradition which is often overlooked in these Champions League-heavy days.

“The only competition I could watch in France when I was a kid was the English FA Cup final. On black and white television, every year we saw the Cup final. That’s a very prestigious competition for me. It is true that maybe it does not have the glamour nowadays that it had in the Sixties and Seventies but it is still, for me, a very important competition.

“I just remember that I was always admiring Wembley’s pitch because I used to play on really bad pitches and the white ball, it was a dream to have this kind of ball. I played with a ball with laces at the time so that was always something special, too.”

The FA Cup remains the only major trophy won by Coventry, and it came against north London opposition. The victory against Tottenham in 1987 is still celebrated by members of the team, who gather episodically to toast the achievement. Though Coventry were in the top tier, they were the same heavy underdogs they are tonight.

The imbalance in power has not diminished the appetite for a game set for a full house, evidence according to Wenger of the growing power and attraction of his team. “It is just an indication of how big this club is,” he said. “I must say I have total respect that on a Friday night, people come to this game and that it is a sell-out. It is absolutely fantastic.”

Wenger spent last night poring over tapes of Coventry before finalising a line-up that will show one guaranteed change from the team that beat Fulham last Saturday with Lukasz Fabianski coming in between the sticks. There might also be a starting place for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after six months out of the game with a knee injury.

Wenger does not believe the lay-off has disrupted the stellar march of one of England’s brightest prospects in World Cup year. “He is in advance of where every player of his age is,” he said. “He has just been handicapped by injury but is in a very strong position.”

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'