Wigan v Arsenal: Arsene Wenger warms to dream of the 'winnable' FA Cup - but first they must navigate Wembley semi-final
The Gunners face Wigan in this weekend's semi-finals where Aaron Ramsey will make his first start since Boxing Day
Thursday 10 April 2014
Arsène Wenger returns to the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday, for the first time in five years, and believes it is one of the most open competitions in world sport. Wenger has won the Cup four times, but has often been portrayed as not caring much about the world's oldest football competition.
At his press conference, though, ahead of Saturday's game with the holders Wigan Athletic, Wenger spoke with real enthusiasm about the competition and his commitment to it.
For years the French manager has had to balance the demands of qualifying for the Champions League with aiming for silverware and, while he does not regret prioritising the league, he insisted in the strongest possible terms that trophies motivate him.
"The Champions League was vital for us, with survival at the top until now so, for me, it was the minimum requirement at the start of the season," Wenger explained. "But don't imagine I sacrifice every day of my life not to win a trophy. Everybody fights for that."
Despite Arsenal's recent struggles – this will be their first FA Cup semi-final since 2009 – Wenger's career shows an obvious commitment to the competition, which he won in 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005. He explained that the openness and winnability of the FA Cup made it so special.
"If you are in the FA Cup everyone can dream of winning it at the start of the season," he said. "The championship – maybe six or seven clubs can dream of winning it at the start of the season. [The Cup] is a dream open to everybody and that is the beauty of the FA Cup. Last year Wigan won it, this year you have Sheffield United in the semi-final and that kind of dream open to everybody makes the competition special.
"Because in the championship you can talk and talk and talk, but we know the biggest budget will win the championship, and nobody else, so that open dream is what makes this competition special."
This is not just because of the format, but the nature of the sport. Football allows more upsets than almost any other team game. "Only in football, because if you play basketball or rugby – any other sport – you cannot open the dream to other people other than the top teams," Wenger said. "In basketball if you play against a team from Division Two there is absolutely no chance unless you give them 30 points. Only our sport can create that excitement because it is uncertain."
If Arsenal win, they will play their first FA Cup final since 2005, when they beat Manchester United on penalties, in a game Wenger now admits they "did not deserve to win". Arsenal played unusually defensively to shut out a superior United side. "It was the only way we could win it."
Aaron Ramsey will make his first start since Boxing Day, while Mathieu Flamini is suspended.
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