Sport Soccer

Friday 17 November 2017

Wenger: This is a turning point in our campaign

Wigan Athletic 1 Arsenal 1 (After extra-time - Arsenal win 4-2 on penalties)

Jeremy Wilson

So was this Arsene Wenger's Mark Robins moment? Did a scrambled 82nd-minute goal from Per Mertesacker, followed by heroics from Lukasz Fabianski in the subsequent penalty shoot-out, save his entire Arsenal career?

Wenger says not but did describe this nerve-shredding FA Cup semi-final victory as "a turning point" after a truly horrible 10-week period that had transformed a season of great promise to the brink of collapse.

Arsenal must still improve considerably if their aims of a top-four finish and winning the FA Cup are to be realised but this was a start and, as Wenger partially acknowledged, perhaps the worst crisis of his 18 years as manager has been averted.

"There was a lot at stake for us," he said. "If we had gone out, we would have been questioned tremendously. We have shown resilience and nerve. We knew that it was a turning point."

But what sort of turning point? A turning point just for this season or perhaps a turning point for the club and perhaps even their manager? Wenger and Arsenal are adamant that their marriage does not depend on winning this one competition but, just as Alex Ferguson is always adamant that he would have stayed with Manchester United if Robins had not kept them in the 1990 FA Cup, we will never really know. The intentions and plans of directors and a manager is one thing but there can be no certainty how any club might react if a crowd turns.

Arsenal fans, frustrated by their nine-year wait for silverware, seemed to be going down that path when they booed the decision to substitute Lukas Podolski after 68 minutes.

They were, though, celebrating deliriously exactly an hour later and, after so many years of Arsenal playing the best football and losing, it would be churlish to be too critical of them scrapping to victory.

It was also almost forgotten amid the collective sighs of relief that Wenger could equal a post-war record on May 17 by winning a fifth FA Cup. "I want to do it for the club," said Wenger. "I'm not standing on the touchline expecting a result, I want to fight for the result. To say it was a turning point for the future of this club is a bit too much because the club is solid and we have a strong squad."

QUESTION

The big hope at Arsenal now is that Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere will all return from injury for the final while Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be fully match-fit. There is also a big question over who will start in goal. Fabianski has been given his chance throughout the competition so far but admitted that he is unsure whether Wojciech Szczesny, who has been first choice in the Premier League and Champions League, will be recalled for the final.

In 2002, Wenger played Richard Wright in the early rounds but dropped him for David Seaman in the final. Fabianksi is also stalling on a contract offer and could leave this summer in search of regular football.

"Getting a chance to play is down to my hard work and good performances whenever I get a chance," Fabianski said. "I just deserve it and it shouldn't really be put into question why I am playing. It hasn't been confirmed yet that I will feature in the final but I will definitely be disappointed if I don't play."

Fabianski admitted that his penalty saves from Jack Collison and Gary Caldwell were a product of intuition rather than planning. "I wasn't thinking I was just reacting," he said. "I did some homework but none of the guys who stepped up to take penalties were on my list."

Fabianski's preparation had focused on Jordi Gomez, who had put Wigan in front with a penalty after Mertesacker's foul on Callum McManaman. Arsenal then really laboured for their equaliser, with Mikel Arteta later hinting that the game had been slowed down by Wigan's refusal to have the pitch watered.

"Normally at Wembley both teams have to agree to water the pitch," he said.

"If one of them says no, then obviously that's what happens. I don't know of any team in the world who wins a competition who doesn't go through a difficult moment in that competition."

And, having stared into the abyss, would fourth place in the League and the FA Cup amount to a successful year? "That would be a big step forward from last season," Arteta said, "but we need to win all our remaining league games. If we don't then I don't think we will do it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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