Football

Wenger: FA Cup a big priority for us

Despite resting Cech, Koscielny and Sanchez, Wenger targets a seventh triumph

FA CUP THIRD ROUND
PRESTON NORTH END ARSENAL

Arsene Wenger insists the FA Cup is a "big priority" for Arsenal this season as he looks set to buck the growing trend by naming a strong side at Preston tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

Many clubs, not restricted only to the Premier League, have suggested they will make drastic changes to their starting line-ups for their respective third-round ties, as they look to manage fixture congestion and keep fringe players happy.

But Wenger, who has won the competition a record-equalling six times during his two-decade tenure as Gunners boss, has said he will make only a few changes to his strongest side.

Arsenal have lifted the FA Cup 12 times - a feat matched only by Manchester United - and won the competition back to back in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.

SAVED HIS JOB

The first of those consecutive successes - a 3-2 extra-time victory over Hull - arguably saved Wenger his job after a decade without silverware had seen calls for him to leave his post reach fever pitch.

  • SELECTED FIXTURES

    TONIGHT (all 11pm)
    • Birmingham v Newcastle
    • Bolton v Crystal Palace
    • Everton v Leicester
    • Hull City v Swansea
    • Millwall v Bournemouth
    • Norwich v Southampton
    • Stoke City v Wolves
    • Sunderland v Burnley
    • Watford v Burton
    • West Brom v Derby
    • 1.30am: Preston v Arsenal
    • 7.30pm: Cardiff v Fulham
    • 9.30pm: Liverpool v Plymouth
    • 11pm: Chelsea v Peterborough
    • 11pm: Middlesbrough v Sheffield Wed
    • 11.55pm: Tottenham v Aston Villa

With Tuesday's 3-3 draw at Bournemouth leaving Arsenal fifth in the league and a difficult Champions League Round-of- 16 tie against Bayern Munich on the horizon, the FA Cup could again offer the best chance of success for Wenger this season - and he is not intending to take the third-round trip to Deepdale lightly.

"It is a big priority for us," he said of the FA Cup yesterday.

"We have shown historically that we care about it, and it is a massive competition for everybody. To win the FA Cup is always a target each year.

"We know as well that after a congested Christmas period that the third round is always a tricky game and that is why I believe it is a mental challenge for the Premier League teams to prepare well and not have a bad surprise - especially when you go to a Championship team, it is always difficult.

"It's a special occasion, a special trophy and in every single country, everybody dies to win the cup. I believe it's still the same in England.

"Maybe in the past, it was even more important because the European Cup wasn't as important, but it's a special occasion for me."

Arsenal are without several first-team players - Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin all miss the trip through injury.

Add to that doubts over the fitness of Mesut Oezil, Theo Walcott and Lucas Perez, as well as Mohamed Elneny being away at the African Nations Cup, and Wenger's options become limited.

RESTED

But, other than announcing he is set to rest goalkeeper Petr Cech, defender Laurent Koscielny and forward Alexis Sanchez, the Frenchman is keen to name a strong side against Simon Grayson's men.

"I will take my first-choice team," insisted Wenger.

"At the moment, (goalkeeper) David Ospina will start and he plays in the Champions League.

"Maybe two or three players will be rested.

"We will play with 90 per cent of the squad, I will rest Koscielny because he came off (at Bournemouth) with two problems in his thigh, of course Ospina will play, Alexis I will rest certainly, but the rest will play." - PA SPORT

FA Cuparsenalarsene wenger