Arsene Wenger’s claim that the Premier League fixture list will benefit Manchester United has underlined the importance of this weekend’s FA Cup clash with Cardiff City to the Arsenal manager.
With a full league programme on Tuesday and Wednesday, Wenger has pointed out that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will enjoy a five-day break between games while Arsenal will have just two days to recover from their trip to Everton before facing West Ham.
The Frenchman believes this will could be a huge advantage to United’s hopes of retaining the title.
And with Arsenal currently lying in fifth spot, that could spell the end of the Gunners championship ambitions and reinforce the view that the FA Cup is the club’s best hope of ending a four-year wait for silverware.
Wenger knows he must deliver success soon after failing to lift a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup final victory over United.
With uncertainty surrounding the future ownership of the club and the manager himself coming in for unprecedented criticism during an inconsistent season, a successful Wembley appearance next May would go a long way towards bringing greater stability to the Emirates Stadium.
The Champions League remains an ambition but the obstacle posed by Championship club Cardiff is clearly less daunting than that set by AS Roma who block Arsenal’s passage into the last eight of Europe’s premier competition.
And there is little doubt Wenger is viewing the trip to Wales as an important stage in his side’s campaign and resists any suggestion that the cup is less important than it once was.
“We will go there to qualify,” Wenger said. “The most important thing is that the team goes out on Sunday and plays to win the game.
“I personally think that the question of whether the competition has been devalued has been asked for years and still everybody fights to be at Wembley.
“It can be that some clubs have different priorities like Tottenham at the moment. They might have different worries but overall the FA Cup is still a glamorous competition.”
Wenger sidestepped discussion about his move for Zenit St Petersburg’s midfielder Andrei Arshavin, focusing instead on the more immediate task ahead.
His side’s hopes have been bolstered by the return of defender William Gallas from a hamstring injury although Gael Clichy will be absent as he serves a one-match ban.
The manager also faces a dilemma over Aaron Ramsey, the teenage midfielder he signed from Cardiff last summer for five million pounds.
“I love Aaron Ramsey and I believe he will be a great player for Arsenal Football Club but we don’t go there for a testimonial,” he added.
“I must say I am not tempted to play him because of the occasion but I’m not tempted to leave him out either. I will consider the whole week we have to go through and I will play him if it will help us to qualify.”
The visit of Arsenal to South Wales triggers Cardiff memories of the biggest occasion in the club’s history when they beat the Gunners in the 1927 final – the only time the competition has been won by a non-English club.
Last season David Jones’s side almost staged a repeat when they reached the final only to lose to Portsmouth at Wembley.
This season the Welsh club have built on that success and currently lie sixth in the second tier, well placed to step up a promotion push during the final months of the campaign.
Cardiff striker Ross McCormack said: “Obviously the focus is on promotion to the Premier League this season but the FA Cup is a huge competition that we are desperate to do well in.
“I’ve never played at Wembley; it’s something I want to do”
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