Wenger’s double cup juggle

I might as well just wheel out my ‘I love the FA Cup’ article again, mightn’t I? I do love the FA Cup. Did I ever mention that?

And now we’re approaching the business end of it – win today’s fifth round and it’s the quarter-finals. That has the word finals in it. Maybe at this point I should throw in a gem of a stat, one that you’ve not heard before. How about: We’ve not been in a cup final since 2005, which incidentally was the last time we won a trophy! Come back again, you’re welcome.

Not that I have an especially fond memory of the quarter-finals. We lost at that stage rather tamely to Man Utd two seasons ago, 2-0. I just re-read my match report and it’s a model for despondency, so I won’t link to it. And one of my first (unhappy) memories of the quarter-finals was losing to Watford in 1987. My guess is that we hadn’t been that far for a few years because I was massively giddy about it, but Luther blooming bloody Blissett scored a controversial late winner and that was that.

I also remember a few years later, in 1991, we were taking on Cambridge Utd at the same stage and a whole bunch of us – about ten, because you could do that then – rolled up at about 2.15pm but it was a lock-out and we couldn’t get in. So instead we went ten-pint bowling at Finsbury Park. It was chaos by about the fifth pint.

Anyway, I’m waffling. This is a big game for us for all the reasons I don’t need to remind you of, but of course it comes just three days before a more prestigious game against Bayern. Like it or not, that’s the hierarchy and I’m sure Wenger’s team will reflect that. I wouldn’t risk players who are not 100% fit like Jack Wilshere – especially given his overall importance – but I’m not sure I’d rest too many, really. I think we have to go for both but I do accept it’s a balancing act. But the effects of a disjointed performance and a cup exit on the players, the fans, on pretty much everyone, do not bear thinking about. It would undo all the good work of the last few weeks.

Blackburn have a new manager, only their third of the season, and he seems to brought some stability to a club that desperately needs it. They’ve not lost since 19th January so we take them lightly at our peril.

The looming presence of the Champions League does worry me though. On the one hand I love it and those nights are always memorable. You’re on a global stage. But on the other, its shadow looms over the games either side of it.

Focus gents, focus – and come on you rip-roarers.