Arsene Wenger insisted last night that he had no regrets, having gambled on the weakened side which was bundled out of the FA Cup 3-1 by Stoke City.
The Arsenal manager made it quite clear that four Premier League games in 14 days against Aston Villa, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, followed by the Champions League visit to Porto, were the priority. Wenger is not usually disposed to jokes when Stoke, his bête noire, are in the vicinity but when asked if his triple substitution 23 minutes from time revealed his desire to avoid a replay, he grinned and said: "Yes, I did it. It worked."
Wenger rested William Gallas for a match which delivered a historic first FA Cup victory over the Gunners for Stoke at the eighth attempt and indicated that Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and Gaël Clichy could possibly have played, had Wednesday's visit to Villa Park not been a consideration. "If you look at our schedule, it's as simple as that," he said of his motivation for fielding a side with an average age of under 22. "You cannot always play the same XI. If you do not [play your strongest] and you don't win, it's your fault."
As always, Wenger did not suggest Stoke played the best football – only the most physical – in the win clinched with two goals from Ricardo Fuller. The Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, retorted: "It's a compliment. That's enough for me."
But both managers agreed on the contribution of Sol Campbell, starting for Arsenal for the first time since the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris, who seemed to have dealt with Stoke's physical threat until he tired in the last 20 minutes, allowing a Mamady Sidibe cross to loop over his head for Fuller to nod in, then permitting Matthew Etherington to cross for Dean Whitehead to score.
The 35-year-old's pleasure at a return was counteracted by disappointment at his side's exit. "It was great to be playing again," he said. "They [Arsenal] have worked me hard. There's nothing like game time but it came down to moments today. There were just moments of the game that cost us. It's not nice to be knocked out of the FA Cup, especially out of such a massive competition."
Stoke will go to Manchester City in the fifth round after Roberto Mancini's side saw off the spirited challenge of Scunthorpe to win 4-2 at Glanford Park in yesterday's other FA Cup tie.
Mancini surprisingly named Robinho in his starting line-up despite the £32.5m Brazilian winger being linked with a loan move to either Santos or Benfica. Robinho was barracked throughout by the Scunthorpe fans but had the last laugh by scoring City's fourth goal with six minutes to go.
Afterwards, the City manager claimed he wanted the player to stay. "Robinho has not spoken with me so I don't know [about any reports that he has played his last game]," Mancini said, "but I'm happy for him today because he played very well and scored a good goal.
"For me he stays here. He has not said he wants to go. This week he worked very well. I think Robinho has a good technique, he is a top player and if he works very well he can play always."