Swansea: Arsene Wenger’s record in the FA Cup means the competition will always be special to the Arsenal manager but this season it could be critical to his efforts to prove he is still the right man to lead the club.
Wenger has already emerged from one sustained bout of criticism this season that intensified when his side were beaten at home last month by Swansea.
A month on from that defeat, Arsenal will head to South Wales for Sunday’s FA Cup third round meeting with Swansea in better shape following an improved run of form in the league.
However, they remain in sixth place in the Premier League, 18 points adrift of the leaders Manchester United and destined once again to play a supporting role in the title race.
Eliminated from the League Cup by League Two minnows Bradford and facing the tough test of Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League, the FA Cup represents Arsenal’s best chance of ending their eight-year wait for silverware.
Their last trophy came in this competition in 2005 - the fourth time Wenger had lifted the cup with Arsenal - and another triumph this season would rekindle some of the support the manager has lost in recent years.
An early exit though, would put increased pressure on the Frenchman’s transfer dealings this month, with Arsenal’s supporters frustrated at the failure to adequately replace favourites like Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas.
And Wenger, who has allowed striker Marouane Chamakh to join West Ham on loan until the end of the season, admits this is not a time to rest players.
“I will play the team I think has the best chance to win the game, without considering any rotational desire,” Wenger said.
“If you look at Queens Park Rangers’ victory at Chelsea on Wednesday, you see there is nothing between the teams now.
“The teams are well-organised, they are physically strong and if you are not at your best, you don’t win the game. It is the same for everybody.
“Manchester United are top of the League but they have already lost three games this season, so I believe the teams at this level are very competitive. Then, the FA Cup is something special because it is something exciting.
“It is watched all over the world and it has a special history in England which I have always respected.
“I am always sad when we don’t win it or when we go out and we will put in our maximum effort on Sunday to win the game.”
Swansea’s victory at the Emirates Stadium was achieved thanks to two goals from Michu and the Spanish forward will again pose the greatest threat to Arsenal’s chances of making the fourth round.
That result will ensure Arsenal approach the game with a degree of trepidation and Swans boss Michael Laudrup is in no doubt the pressure will be on Wenger’s side.
“When you are a top team, you are obliged to at least compete until the end to win things,” Laudrup said.
“There can only be one winner in all competitions and two teams in a final, and they are expected to at least be in the semi-finals, so there is more pressure at this stage on Arsenal than on Swansea, that is obvious.
“Looking from the outside, Arsenal are a big club and big clubs are obliged to play in finals.
“They played a [League Cup] final the year before last and they lost, but it is many years since they won a trophy, which is why they will come here with the best team they can put on the pitch.”