Belfast Telegraph

Arsene Wenger out to put Old Trafford history in past

By Tom Peck

Arsene Wenger and the FA Cup have a curious history. Early in the Noughties, he took semi-permanent ownership of it, then came the years when it seemed like he didn't care very much for it.

And finally, last year, it arguably saved the Arsenal manager's neck, when it became his first trophy in nine years, restored some belief to his team and staved off growing disquiet from the club's fans.

Now that the old line about how long it has been since Arsenal won anything has gone, new statistics must be found. Here's one: it's almost nine years since Wenger last won at Old Trafford, but these are statistics that don't concern the Arsenal manager, as he prepares for tonight's FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United.

"I am not so worried about history," said Wenger.

"I don't believe in it. The team that is less good, they lose. When the team is not as good, they lose.

"It doesn't matter who they are, what shirt they wear, or what stadium they play in. It is down to quality.

"If I've learnt something in my life it's that the performance on the day decides the outcome of the day, not where you play, or anything else."

This summer it will be 10 years since Chelsea won their first league title under Jose Mourinho, ending a near decade-long era in which Arsenal and Manchester United fought for supremacy.

This rivalry, it is plain to see, is not what it was. It is a long time since Arsenal v Manchester United was the match that decided the season, or on the odd occasion it happened, the FA Cup's miracle tie, but such an all-conquering duopoly may never emerge again.

"Today you have more competitors and it will get worse with the seasons to come, because there is now more money and that means even the smaller teams will be capable to buy the best players in Europe," Wenger said.

There was one memorable occasion, in 2008, when Arsenal took the second string to Old Trafford and lost 4-0. A promising season turned to disaster, heralding long years of concern about the declining importance of the FA Cup, which in the last couple of years at least, appears to have been arrested.

"I don't remember exactly the circumstances of that match, but the FA Cup was always badly positioned before the Champions League games so you always had decisions to make," said Wenger.

"A player who was a bit on the edge. What competition do you sacrifice? It was always the FA Cup in the end"

This is a tournament Wenger certainly wants to win, but even now he knows that other Herculean tasks await, not least attempting to score three goals in Monaco next week to avoid being eliminated from the Champions League.

"Once you get to the quarter-final you know that's a good opportunity to win a trophy. You want to do it, but it's at that stage where it's conflicting always with the Champions League," he said.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph