Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned he will not accept another early FA Cup exit this season when north-London rivals Tottenham come to the Emirates Stadium this evening.
Last season the Gunners — whose last trophy was some nine years ago when Patrick Vieira lifted the famous old trophy in Cardiff — crashed out 1-0 at home to Blackburn in the fifth round, a result which all but ended any hopes of silverware.
This year, though, Wenger’s squad head into the FA Cup leading the Premier League and determined to finally end almost a decade without success.
“I had the luck to win four FA Cups, that means I always put the effort in. I am very keen to do it again, it is a long time now,” Wenger said.
“Honestly, I still have in my mind the fact that we went out last year at home against Blackburn, that was not good enough for us and we have to make sure we absolutely put the effort in to have the chance to go through.”
Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert may feel the upcoming Premier League showdown with Arsenal is of more importance than their own FA Cup ambitions this season, but Wenger would love to get his hands on the famous old trophy once again.
“I don’t believe that at all. We have not won trophies for a long time, it’s an opportunity that we want to take,” the French coach added.
“On top of that we have afterwards nine days until the next Premier League game, we can give absolutely everything in this game.”
Wenger added: “It is the beginning of January after a heavy schedule in the Premier League and you want to keep your focus and get into the competition with full power.
“We haven’t drawn a small team, so we are warned that it will just be another top-level game and that is the advantage of having a big opponent — your team is focused naturally.”
Spurs have found some form under new boss Tim Sherwood and recorded a hard-earned 2-1 win at Manchester United on New Year’s Day.
Wenger said: “If you look at their overall record since the start of the season, it isn’t a bad record at all, so I am not surprised that Tottenham can win football games.”
However, Wenger is only concerned with what his team can deliver today.
“My players are highly focused on this game and they are determined to win every single game they play, their attitude has been absolutely fantastic since the start of the season and will be like that tomorrow,” he said.
Wenger will wait to discover the extent of Nicklas Bendtner’s ankle injury before deciding whether to bring in another striker during the January transfer window – but played down reports Arsenal were closing in on a £2 million move for Dimitar Berbatov.
Lead frontman Olivier Giroud missed the 2-0 win over Cardiff on New Year’s Day because of an ankle problem and has also been hit by a sickness bug.
Bendtner came off the bench to score with just two minutes left to finally break Cardiff’s resistance, but suffered a sprained ankle when putting the ball past goalkeeper David Marshall.
Arsenal are examining the full findings of a scan, and following further consultation with specialists, are likely to have a clearer idea of the diagnosis over the weekend.
Wenger admits Arsenal will not rule out a move for a top-calibre player should the opportunity arise, but maintains as yet there has been no approach for former Spurs and Manchester United frontman Berbatov.
“He (Berbatov) is not a name that we have considered at the moment. We have not even been out on the transfer market, we have not contacted anybody,” said Wenger.
“We are just analysing the situation, being very cautious until we are well informed about Bendtner and (Yaya) Sanogo as well, because he is back in training now.
“We will make a decision after that.”
Meanwhile, Tottenham’s patched-up “warrior” Emmanuel Adebayor is fighting fit and raring to terrorise Arsenal, according to Tim Sherwood.
There had been doubts about whether Adebayor would be able to play against his old team after he was carried off on a stretcher at Old Trafford.
The striker has been passed fit though and he looks set to start against his former employers.
“It didn’t look great when he came off on that stretcher but he is a warrior,” Sherwood said.
“He had cramp in every part of his body. We weren’t sure what (part of his body) to rub and put ice on next.
“He was really struggling but there is no holding him back at the moment.”
There will be extra motivation for the player to perform well at the Emirates too as he has had a series of run-ins with the Arsenal fans since he left in 2009.
Sherwood believes the Gunners will be dreading the prospect of facing their former star.
“It’s huge for us that he is back,” Sherwood said.
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