Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accepts tonight’s FA Cup quarter-final showdown at Manchester United could either make or break his side’s ambitions for the rest of the campaign.
The Gunners head to Old Trafford on the back of a fine run in the Premier League, with seven wins in the last eight games putting them third, now a point ahead of United and only four behind Manchester City.
With their Champions League dreams now all but over unless they can overturn a 3-1 deficit when they travel to Monaco next week, Wenger knows continued progress in the FA Cup is crucial if his side are to maintain momentum in the fight to secure a top-four finish once again.
“Monday night is a big game, and every big win in a big game has an impact subconsciously in the belief of the team,” said Wenger.
“It (winning the FA Cup last season) gave us energy because we had a few years without winning a trophy and on that front it was vital.
“This team has a good mentality because we had a slow start this season and every time when we lose a big game, you see how much the players are touched.
“I think the mentality is very healthy, they want to do well and we will be focused on Monday night.”
Wenger added: “Once you get to the quarter-final you think that is (now) a good opportunity to win a trophy.”
Wenger accepts there had been times in the past when he “sacrificed” the FA Cup with hopes of further progress in Europe, the 4-0 fifth-round defeat at United in 2008 one particular painful example ahead of a crunch tie with AC Milan.
“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 do you sacrifice? It was always the FA Cup in the end.
“Sometimes as well I did not sacrifice the FA Cup years before and we paid the price because we lost one or two important players two or three days before an important game.”
Arsenal have a poor record at Old Trafford, where they have not won since September 2006 and suffered a heavy 8-2 defeat in August 2011.
Wenger, though, will pay no heed to that series of unfortunate events.
“When the team is not as good, they lose, it doesn’t matter what shirt they wear, or what stadium they play in — it is down to quality,” the Arsenal manager said.
“If I have learnt something in my life it is that the performance on the day decides the outcome of the day, not where you play.”
Arsenal against Manchester United was once the showpiece game of the Premier League, as the heavyweights slugged it out for the championship.
Wenger believes there will be plenty more pretenders to the crown in the coming seasons, given the billions of the new broadcasting deals.
“Today you have more competitors and it will get worse with the seasons coming because you get more money in because that means even the smaller teams will be capable to buy the best players in Europe, maybe the competition will become harder for everybody,” he said.
Wenger believes his side cannot expect to just defend deep and look to hit Manchester United on the counter-attack. “What is for sure is both teams will go for it, so that means we will have to attack well and defend well.”
Wenger added that he can still hear the celebrations of the United players following Ryan Giggs’ FA Cup wondergoal in their 1999 FA Cup semi-final, but hopes his team can enjoy their own “miracle year” with a result tonight.
Wenger recalled: “I think that goal won them the Treble because if Bergkamp scores (a stoppage-time penalty), the game is over. It was a trauma for us in a negative way and for them (a lift) in a positive way.
“Bergkamp never wanted to take a penalty again, and it put them on the road (towards success). I can still hear the shouts of that (United) team, having won, they couldn’t believe it because they were down to 10 men.
“They then won the title, just.
“United played (a draw) at Blackburn and we lost at Leeds in the last minutes when Nigel Winterburn was kicked off (the ball) and (Jimmy-Floyd) Hasselbaink scored at the far post and earlier Kaba Diawara had hit the bar twice.
“After that, United won the Champions League final in the last minutes — it was a miracle year, 1999, for them.”