Arsene Wenger insists all clubs do take the FA Cup seriously as Arsenal prepare to welcome Watford to the Emirates Stadium in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
The Gunners have won the competition twice in succession and are now only three games away from continuing that sequence after thumping Hull City 4-0 on Tuesday in their fifth-round replay.
Wenger, whose team are third in the Premier League, feels it is a myth that top teams do not prioritise the competition. And the Frenchman called for full focus on the task at hand against Quique Sanchez Flores’ team, despite crucial upcoming Champions League and Premier League games against Barcelona and Everton.
“We have always taken the FA Cup seriously and if you look at the record we have over the years, we try to do well,” said Wenger.
“Everyone does. This story of the FA Cup not being taken seriously is not right – everyone wants to do well. In the [Premier League] we have not done as well because maybe some teams have done better than us in recent years.
“Is it fair or not to say we are favourites? I don’t know. I look at the teams who are still in the competition and you could say the same to three or four as well.
“We have a chance like everyone else and we want to play as hard as we can to give ourselves a good chance to be successful. We have to take care of the next minute and the next minute is an FA Cup game.
“We must win the next game and prove that we can show consistency again. I don’t believe anyone in my side thinks about Barcelona at the moment, or Everton, they are completely focused on Watford.
“They have done extremely well. It looks like the Championship teams that come up now deal very well with the Premier League regime.”
Flores’ men are indeed enjoying an impressive campaign as they sit 13th in the table having won promotion from the second tier last season.
Watford have failed to score in their last three games, picking up just one point, and Flores urged his players to enjoy the lack of league pressure.
“We are happy with the idea to play there against Arsenal,” he said. “Our mentality in the FA Cup is very simple because we don’t have the necessary pressure to play nervous.
“It will be a very tough match but it’s a big opportunity to play in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. It’s a good experience for us, we will have maybe 9,000 fans following us so we will have a lot of reasons to try to play well.”
Wenger expects Gabriel and Per Mertesacker to be fit after picking up knocks at Hull, while Hector Bellerin is back from a rest and Francis Coquelin returns from suspension.
Laurent Koscielny (calf) will be assessed, but Santi Cazorla (Achilles), Petr Cech and Jack Wilshere (both calf) are all still out, while Aaron Ramsey (thigh) is set to miss four weeks of action. The visitors will check on Craig Cathcart (calf).
Key Opta Stats:
– Wenger’s side have won 15 consecutive rounds of the FA Cup. The post-war record is 16, which the Gunners hold (2002-2004).
– Watford have won all three of their FA Cup games this season by a 1-0 scoreline.
– The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 21 all-Premier League home FA Cup ties (W15 D6). Their last such defeat came against Leeds in 1997.
– The Hornets have won their last two FA Cup quarter-final ties, but were beaten semi-finalists both times (2003 and 2007).