Arsene Wenger’s players are playing for the manager’s future.
If Arsenal fail to beat Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final, Wenger’s position with the club could become untenable. Not even a top-four finish would save him from the wrath of an irritable fanbase starved of silverware.
Wenger has copped the blame for Arsenal’s recent poor form, with a degree of justification. He has assembled and organised the component parts of this team. The training, selection and tactics are all his responsibility.
However, there are things beyond his control. Wenger might feel as if he’s kicking every ball on the sideline, but his actual influence over events on the pitch is minimal. Once the whistle blows, it falls to the players to deliver. Wenger is ultimately responsible, though not necessarily entirely culpable.
Wenger’s reign at Arsenal has been characterised by his unwavering faith in his players. He refuses to admonish his squad in public, constantly defending them from criticism and reinforcing his belief that they have what it takes to deliver trophies. Now is the time for the team to reward that faith.
Now that the manager is under threat, the players need to stand up and be counted. Most of them know Wenger an enormous amount. He is the one who identified their talent and set about creating ideal conditions for it to flourish.
If Arsenal win the FA Cup, it could be a pivotal moment in the club’s modern history. There is a pervading feeling that a single trophy in the Arsenal cabinet could soon multiply. If Arsenal can get the monkey off their back, more glory could await.
Experienced midfielder Tomas Rosicky seems acutely aware of what’s at stake. Speaking to the club's official website, he said:
It would be a big lift for everyone because you still have a lot of players here who don't know how it feels to win a trophy.
Mainly the guys who are coming through like Jack, Aaron and all these boys. They don't know how success tastes, so it is a massive chance for us to win a trophy this year.
It would be a building block for these boys.
If Arsenal’s players show focus and determination at Wembley, they ought to have far too much for Wigan. The Latics are in tremendous form but a division separates them from the Gunners. Arsenal have no excuse.
Speaking to the club's website, Wenger has underlined the importance of delivering on the day:
You win when you produce a quality performance. We have, in this competition, produced top quality performances so just let’s continue with that.
Now he needs his players to produce. Over to you, boys.
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.