Arsene Wenger Would Be Wrong to Field a Weakened XI Against Liverpool

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's Stadium on January 28, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

With Arsenal caught in the midst of a relentless fixture schedule, one can understand the temptation for Arsene Wenger to field a weakened team for the FA Cup tie with Liverpool on Saturday. However, that would be the wrong choice: The FA Cup might be the Gunners' best chance of a trophy this season.

Speaking to Rob Kelly of in his pre-match press conference, the manager suggested he will be making changes:

I will play a team [against Liverpool] with a good opportunity, a good chance to qualify. Will I rest one player, or two or three, I don’t know yet. Certainly we will have just have one focus, which is to win the game.

Arsenal fans will surely hope Wenger's changes are toward the lower end of that estimate. However, it's not the number of changes that is most importantit's the nature of them. Certain players in this squad are harder to replace than others.

The Arsenal manager maintains that he is able to rotate his team without significantly weakening his starting XI:

We have rotated quite well, if you look at the number of players we have used. I have the same level of confidence in every player.

For example, I rate [Carl] Jenkinson but Sagna has a bit more experience so when we go in a game with more pressure I give the advantage sometimes to the experienced [player].

But I have the same level of confidence in every player in my squad. I have a short squad but a very level squad.

However, anyone who saw Jenkinson's error-strewn display in the match at home to Chelsea would recognise that the gap between the youngster and Sagna is wider than Wenger suggests.

There are areas of the squad where Wenger can afford to make changes. Mathieu Flamini is back from suspension, and his availability could afford the weary Mikel Arteta a rest without inducing any noticeable drop in quality.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 18:  Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal holds off Clint Dempsey of Fulham during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Fulham at Emirates Stadium on January 18, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Arsenal will be without Santi Cazorla through injury, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain offers a promising solution to that particular problem. Against Manchester United, Arsenal missed someone with Oxlade-Chamberlain's combination of pace and trickery.

However, changes at the back could prove disastrous. In the recent Premier League clash at Anfield, Wenger started Nacho Monreal ahead of Kieran Gibbs, and the consequences were catastrophic. Liverpool deployed Luis Suarez on the right, and his speed and skill were frequently too much for Monreal to handle.

Wenger may be tempted to give Thomas Vermaelen a game, but if there was ever a time to rely upon the defensive axis of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, this is surely it. Liverpool have shown how devastating they can be on the attack, so this is no time to meddle with a usually efficient back line.

The other area of concern will be in attack. Olivier Giroud looked jaded against United, but neither Nicklas Bendtner nor Yaya Sanogo convince as potential replacements.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12:  Olivier Giroud (R) of Arsenal misses a chance during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on February 12, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Im
Michael Regan/Getty Images

For Wenger, the Premier League and the Champions League are undoubtedly the priorities. However, the Arsenal fans will be eager to see Arsenal progress on Sunday. The Gunners cannot afford snobbery. It is nine years since Arsenal's last trophy. If Arsenal beat Liverpool this weekend, they will be just one victory from Wembley and a further two wins from lifting a trophy. It's a truly tantalising prospect.

What's more, Arsenal have the added incentive of revenge. Many of the players who participated in the 5-1 defeat just a week ago will be eager to exact a modicum of vengeance over Liverpool.

After this game, Arsenal face a tough-looking Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. However, after that, they face a relatively comfortable Premier League fixture at home to Sunderland. That, perhaps, could be an opportunity to field a weakened team.

For now, Arsenal need to put as much resource as possible into the next game.

Arsenal need a trophy. The FA Cup is within their grasp. They have to go for it.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here