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Wenger opts for change in Hammers Cup clash as he makes league the priority

ARSENE Wenger has declared he is planning to make wholesale changes for tomorrow's FA Cup third-round tie against West Ham United from the Arsenal side that beat Portsmouth 4-1 on Wednesday.

The Frenchman is likely to rest key players, such as Thomas Vermaelen, Manuel Almunia and Andriy Arshavin (pictured), with Lukasz Fabianski and Jack Wilshere coming in.

Given the intensity of competition in the Premier League and Champions League, the FA Cup represents Arsenal's best chance of silverware since they last lifted the trophy five years ago. But Wenger defended his decision, claiming next Wednesday's Premier League match against Bolton Wanderers is more important. Arsenal can climb to second in the table by beating Bolton, and sustaining a strong title challenge is Wenger's priority.

"I will have to rest some players because there were some knocks again against Portsmouth," he said. "We want to win, but we want to protect our home games against Bolton and Everton as well. Bolton becomes a very important game for us as we want to keep our momentum going. I will change some players, that is for sure.

"The Premier League is always more important than the FA Cup as we're looking after trophies in the eyes of the fans. The FA Cup is important to me as well, but the Premier League is so hard that you want to take care of your position. West Ham is in a bit of a similar position."

Wenger believes that his side's success this season should be judged on the consistency of their results and quality of their football across all competitions rather than on whether or not they manage to win a trophy. The Frenchman also expects Gianfranco Zola to field a weakened team tomorrow as West Ham are battling to stay in the Premier League with a side ravaged by injuries.

"A cup is a cup and we want to do well, but a season is judged on the overall achievement," Wenger said. "People look to who has won the trophies, but I look as well at how we have done and how consistently we have played. This team is enjoyable to watch, but also to manage because I want to win every game.

"I think the pressure on Zola is more on the championship because of West Ham's position, and less on the FA Cup. West Ham is a tricky game because they are a good side at home."

┬ęThe Times, London