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Saturday 21 April 2018

Arsene Wenger determined to be pitch perfect to avoid FA Cup upset

Arsene Wenger saw his Arsenal side lose 5-1 at Bayern Munich last week
Arsene Wenger saw his Arsenal side lose 5-1 at Bayern Munich last week

Arsene Wenger had his Arsenal stars training on an artificial pitch as they prepare for their FA Cup fifth-round tie at non-league Sutton on Monday.

The under-fire Frenchman has taken no risks in readying his players for a game which they are expected to win, but where the consequences of defeat are almost too dire to contemplate.

Wenger's 20-year reign has come under intense scrutiny following a 5-1 Champions League thrashing at Bayern Munich last week, while two defeats in three Premier League games have all-but ended hopes of a domestic title.

The 67-year-old insists he will make a decision on whether to sign a new contract with the Gunners in March or April and will continue to manage next season, even if it is away from the Emirates Stadium.

Even Lincoln's victory over top-flight Burnley on Saturday would be eclipsed if Sutton could knock out the 12-time FA Cup winners - and Wenger is therefore preparing meticulously for the clash on the 3G artificial surface that will greet his players at Gander Green Lane.

Asked what the main dangers facing his side on Monday night would be, Wenger said: "First of all the pitch.

"Secondly their enthusiasm and thirdly that we are not ready for a big fight and subconsciously think that they are a non-league team and it is no matter - but that will not happen.

"Ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch but it has been accepted and the competition is to deal with what you face. We will face an unusual pitch and we will have to deal with it.

"We will practise inside because it is an artificial pitch. It is not the same because it is a dry pitch and Sutton I have heard have a wet pitch which they water before the game and is quicker.

"The weight on the joints is different and you cannot slide to block every time so it makes football a bit different. The ball comes to you suddenly and accelerates and does not slow down like in a normal game, so we have to get used to the different speed."

The winners of Monday night's match will host Lincoln in the quarter-finals.

Wenger, who has lifted the FA Cup on six occasions since taking over at Arsenal in 1996, maintains he is always desperate to counter a bad result with a reaction, and revealed how he has always taken defeat badly.

"I am a positive person. I am a fighter, somewhere. You don't stay so long in this job otherwise," he said.

"I've always seen the future in a positive way. I do not expect too much from outside, I expect more from me inside. The expectation level gets higher.

"The fight doesn't get higher. The fight is always tough. When you hate defeat like I hate defeat, it's always tough. As well, I'm determined to always fight back.

"I can never transmit to you my feelings about defeats. A player when I managed for the first time at 33 or 34 said that after our first defeat I threw up. Whether you are young or old, every defeat hurts."

Despite insisting he will name a "normal team" for the tie, Wenger may still make several alterations for the game in south London, with Laurent Koscielny struggling for fitness after suffering a thigh injury in Munich.

Meanwhile, the likes of Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and Mohamed Elneny will all be hoping for a recall having been among the substitutes last time out.

Press Association

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