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Wenger focused on Hull as Barcelona loom

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists the prospect of tackling all-conquering Barcelona in the Champions League will not distract from Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Hull City.

Reigning Spanish, European and world champions Barcelona visit Emirates Stadium next Tuesday for the first leg of their last-16 tie, three days on from Wenger’s men entertaining another familiar cup foe.

Arsenal ended a nine-year trophy drought by coming from two goals down to beat Hull 3-2 in the 2014 FA Cup final, before overcoming the same opponents in the third round on their way to glory last year.

Speaking at Friday’s pre-match news conference, Wenger confirmed David Ospina would start in goal ahead of Petr Cech as part of a rotated line-up, but denied he would take Championship leaders Hull lightly.

“I consider more that the FA Cup is for me an opportunity to see some players who have not played recently,” he said.

“It’s a very important game. The best way to prepare for Barcelona is to beat Hull tomorrow.

“If we don’t do that we put ourselves in a very bad position to prepare for Barcelona. The momentum is important.

“If you go through the [Hull] team they are all Premier League players, even on the bench, so I consider them as a Premier League team.”

Wenger, who revealed January signing Mohamed Elneny “has a good chance to play”, will take charge of his 100th FA Cup match – a landmark the six-time winner is honoured to reach.

“I believe the first game I saw in France was an FA Cup game on television. I never believed I would play 100 games,” he continued.

“It’s a privilege because it is quite a big number. We have done well as well, most of the time in the FA Cup.”

The 66-year-old’s fondness for the competition is such that he rejects calls in some quarters for replays to be scrapped, arguing that the increasing financial muscle of top-flight clubs should make it possible to negotiate a crowded fixture list.

“I’m quite a bit nervous about changing the rules as I like them,” he added.

“I have become very conservatively English. This is a tradition of the English game. Let’s respect it and keep it as it is.

“More money and fewer games is a bit contradictory. Next season there is more money coming in and that means at every club there will be 25 top-level players.

“There is no real reason to change the rules. This is the most traditional competition in England, let’s leave it how it is.”

Fri 19 Feb, 2016
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