Pires claims Cup win would save Arsenal's season

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Robert Pires insisted Arsenal's season could still be a relative success if they win the FA Cup despite their probable failure to retain their League title or make an impact in Europe.

Robert Pires insisted Arsenal's season could still be a relative success if they win the FA Cup despite their probable failure to retain their League title or make an impact in Europe.

Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions' League in the last 16 by Bayern Munich and are already realistically out of the Barclays Premiership title race with just six games left. That hardly constitutes the most productive season of Arsène Wenger's reign, even if the Gunners manager believes this has been a rebuilding season in bringing through younger players.

Pires, nevertheless, insists that Arsenal can still end on a high note by avoiding their first season without a major trophy for four years when they face Blackburn in Saturday's first FA Cup semi-final. He said: "Fair enough, we were eliminated from the Champions' League but there is at least one other trophy we can win this season. We can still be a success, you know."

Asked if the FA Cup would merely be a consolation prize, the Frenchman insisted: "Not at all. We, as players, want to win all the time and, believe me, we all know how important the FA Cup is to our supporters. The chance for them to go and watch a final at the Millennium Stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

In fact, it is a measure of Arsenal's success over recent seasons that a trip to Cardiff is anything but a one-off for their supporters. Arsenal may have lost to Liverpool in the 2001 final, when they last failed to win a trophy in a season, but they were victorious in the 2002 and 2003 finals, before winning the League title last year.

The Gunners, who also won the FA Cup in 1998 at Wembley, could have Sol Campbell back in their side, having missed his influential presence over the past 10 weeks because of an ankle injury.

Campbell has not started a first-team game since 1 February, when he came off injured against Manchester United, and was not yet ready to return in last weekend's victory at Middlesbrough.

Wenger will assess the defender's fitness and form as the build-up to Saturday's game continues, but Campbell must now be increasingly hopeful of being picked to play in Cardiff.

After all, Wenger, who is also hopeful that Jose Antonio Reyes and Freddie Ljungberg will shake off fitness concerns to face Blackburn, is ready for a physical battle against Mark Hughes' side.

"Yes, they are physical," he said. "But that is not a reproach because you do not want a team to be soft."

Justin Hoyte is now also back after his ankle injury. "I think I need a few more games to get my sharpness back," Hoyte said. "It was quite a bad injury. I was out for longer than I hoped because I aggravated it and then hurt it again in training when I thought I was ready to come back."

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