Arsene Wenger has slammed suggestions Arsenal’s FA Cup fate will have an impact when he decides his Gunners future.
Wenger’s side face Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley on Sunday with the Gunners boss yet to reveal if he will extend his 21-year stay with the north London club.
With Wenger enduring constant calls for his resignation from furious Arsenal fans, it has been claimed a limp exit from the FA Cup might convince the Frenchman to quit when his contract expires at the end of the season.
The north Londoners have once again failed to mount a challenge for the Premier League title and suffered an embarrassing Champions League last 16 thrashing by Bayern Munich.
With Wenger’s record of qualifying for the Champions League for the last 19 years under severe threat this season, lifting the FA Cup might be the only way to salvage a wretched campaign.
But, asked on Thursday if winning the Cup for a seventh time would have a bearing on his future, Wenger said: “It doesn’t play any part in that.
“The FA Cup is a very important game for me because it’s the next game and because it’s an opportunity, as I just told you, to win a trophy this season. So of course we are all fully focused on that. My future is Sunday.
“What I expect when you go into a semifinal is to go to the final. I think somebody told me that I had played 10 semifinals in the FA Cup, so that means it’s a great experience and it’s always something special.
“I remember my first one, we just spoke about it, when we played at Villa Park against Wolves. That’s the day when I realised how big the club is, how much it means to our supporters.
“It is a special experience and, for us, I think we are focused, highly motivated.
“Maybe not at the maximum of our confidence because we had recently some disappointing results, but that is a good opportunity to show we are ready for a fight and how much we want to go to the final.
“Because it’s maybe our only opportunity to get a trophy this season.”
Even if they win the Cup, failure to qualify for the Champions League qualification would taint any Wembley celebrations.
But Wenger insists Arsenal, currently seven points adrift of the top four, are not in a position where they have to start prioritising the FA Cup over the league yet.
“You don’t think about it like that because we don’t have to make a choice,” he said.
“We are not in a position where you can make a choice, do we choose this or do we choose that? The next game is the semi-final of the FA Cup, so we have to give absolutely everything to go to the final.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea are favourites to win this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal despite their recent stutter and Tottenham Hotspur’s irresistible form, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino insists.
Tomorrow’s clash at Wembley creates a diversion from the duo’s Premier League title race, which has burst to life after Tottenham sliced Chelsea’s lead to four points with six games remaining.
While Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side, who were 13 points clear a few weeks ago, have looked vulnerable in defeats by Crystal Palace and Manchester United, Tottenham have built up a head of steam with seven consecutive league wins.
“I think if there is one favourite it’s Chelsea because they are top of the table, because of the experienced players and the manager that they have,” Pochettino, whose Tottenham side lost the 2015 League Cup final to Chelsea, told reporters on Friday.
“We are talking about one of the best teams in Europe. Players that in the past five years have won European competitions and World Cups, a manager who won the league in Italy. They are more experienced than us.
“But we are in a good moment, too, and we are hungry to challenge this type of team. We are happy to fight with the best team in England for the Premier League and (FA) Cup.”
Former Espanyol and Southampton manager Pochettino, in his third season in north London, is yet to win any silverware with Tottenham but if trophies were awarded for progress the Argentine would be ahead of his rivals.
Since the start of last season they have won 141 Premier League points — 11 more than the second-best team, Manchester City, and 16 more than Chelsea.
A late collapse last season meant they finished third despite being the only club to push Leicester City for the title, and they are poised to improve on that.
“I remember three years ago when we signed here I remember the first few press conferences and I was asked how we can reduce the gap to the top four,” he said.
“That was the main problem that Tottenham had. Now after three years not only have we reduced the gap to the top four we are fighting for the Premier League and to win titles.
“With six games to go we have 71 points. Last season we finished with 70. We have improved — that is a reality. The team is playing in a good way, exciting football, scoring goals and not conceding too many chances.
“We have great momentum and that is the most important because that can change very quickly.”
Pochettino said he was especially proud of his work despite the greater spending power of the clubs around them.
“It’s a big thing that people include Tottenham in the same level as United, Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Liverpool,” he said.
“It means a lot because we are in a very different project. Today, to beat Tottenham is a big, big challenge for everyone, which is good news for us.”
English FA Cup fixtures
Tomorrow: Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur (Wembley Stadium 18:15.
Sunday: Arsenal v Manchester City (Wembley Stadium 16:00).