Arsenal take on Blackburn Rovers this weekend in their FA Cup fifth round clash at the Emirates.
However, with their Champions League last-16 tie against the mighty Bayern Munich coming up next Tuesday, will the Gunners be fully focused on the domestic cup?
Defender Per Mertesacker insists he and his teammates are fully focused on the FA Cup this Saturday but, in the same remark, admitted that they had already begun preparing for the Budesliga’s leaders’ imminent arrival in North London next week.
“We still have an important game on Saturday,” explained the German.
“We absolutely want to advance in the FA Cup, that is why the preparations for Bayern are not that intense yet.”
That statement might have been intended to reassure uneasy Gunners fans but I have a sneaking suspicion they would rather hear that manager Arsene Wenger’s preparations for the German giants was exactly that: intense.
Intensity is something Arsenal have lacked at times this season and Bayern Munich are unlikely to ease off – they’ll being doing everything they can to ensure they make the quarterfinals again this term and they won’t want to let another pesky London outfit get in their way.
Bayern are undoubtedly one of the favourites to win the competition this season after making it to the Final last time around and Wenger now has a slew or injury worries and fitness concerns to contend with at the most in-opportune time.
Captain Thomas Vermaelen is out injured, as is Jack Wilshere, although it is hoped and expected that both will recover in time for Tuesday evening’s fixture.
Wenger’s only recognized and available left-back, new signing Nacho Monreal is cup-tied for the Champion’s League and with Kieran Gibbs out for at least another month, Arsenal will have to hope that Vermaelen can return in time to put in a shift out of position.
Meanwhile Laurent Koscielny is still recovering from a knock he picked up in training prior to Arsenal’s last game in the Premier League against Sunderland last weekend. Currently the only centre-backs passed fit are Mertesacker and Sebastian Squillacci who hasn’t played a league game in two years such is his manager’s faith in his abilities.
Wenger will undoubtedly still believe his team can win the Champion’s League (above all odds) and I’ suspect he’ll rest his best to some extent against Blackburn.
But with the Premier League title completely out of sight for the Gunners who are still chasing top-four football for Champion’s League qualification next season, the FA Cup represents their best opportunity for silverware now.
Wenger may feel he has the players within his ranks to challenge on all three fronts for top four in the league, the FA Cup, and on the continent but the reality is that he failed to adequately strengthen his squad in the past two transfer windows. Will he pay the price on Saturday or on Tuesday?