Arsenal find themselves in an uncomfortably familiar position ahead of their FA Cup semi-final against holders Wigan Athletic.
When Arsene Wenger’s men embarked on their run to the last four of the Cup at the turn of the year, they were in the thick of the Premier League title race and through to the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League.
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich duly ended their continental campaign and a run of poor results over the last month have eased Arsenal out of contention for a first top-flight crown since 2004.
Champions League qualification is now out of their hands following the chastening 3-0 reverse against top-four rivals Everton last Sunday, leaving the Cup as potentially the only way to salvage something from a season that once promised so much.
It will be nine years next month since ex-Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira lashed home the decisive penalty in a shootout victory over Manchester United to win the 2005 FA Cup, setting in motion a trophy drought that few would have believed feasible at the time.
This year’s Cup, though, appears as favourable as any opportunity thrown Wenger’s way to lift that weight from his shoulders.
A semi-final against Championship opposition and the prospect of a final against Hull City or Sheffield United should encourage Arsenal supporters to believe that their barren years are approaching an end.
However, the 2011 League Cup final reverse at the hands of Birmingham City – who were subsequently relegated from the Premier League – will serve as a cautionary tale, as will the exploits of their opponents.
Wigan sprung a surprise when they claimed a deserved 1-0 victory over Manchester City in last season’s Cup final.
Now led by City cult hero Uwe Rosler, Wigan repeated the trick with a 2-1 win over Manuel Pellegrini’s current City vintage in the quarter-final.
Defeat at Arsenal three days after last May’s Wembley high somewhat soured the party mood in Wigan, as Saturday’s opponents won 4-1 to condemn them to relegation from the top flight.
The managerial departures of Roberto Martinez and Owen Coyle have since paved the way for Rosler’s appointment, and the former East Germany international believes memories of Cup glory, as opposed to their harrowing evening in north London, will serve to inspire his squad.
“There were always positive vibes and positive memories about the Cup,” he said.
“My players are used to playing against Premier League sides and they are missing that this season. For them it was always like ‘come on, I can still do it’ and here we are in the semis.”
The game also marks a return to Wembley for Rosler, who would dearly enjoy righting the wrongs of his League One play-off final defeat as Brentford boss last season.
“Last year I walked out with Brentford and I found out that Wembley is not a nice place when you’re not a winner,” he added.
“It took me a few weeks to overcome the disappointment and I want to taste success as well.”
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