Why the FA Cup Should Not Be as Much of a Priority for Arsenal This Season

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Why the FA Cup Should Not Be as Much of a Priority for Arsenal This Season
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The FA Cup is a special competition for Arsene Wenger. He won it in his first full season in English football, and he has gone on to lift the famous trophy a further five times. 

No manager has been more successful in this tournament—George Ramsay also collected half-a-dozen winners medals with Aston Villa, while Sir Alex Ferguson only managed five triumphs in his 26 years in charge of Manchester United.

Arguably, the FA Cup is the very reason Wenger is still in a job at Arsenal. Back in 2014, after nine years without silverware the supporters were understandably restless as the Frenchman’s contract drew to a close.

However, the cup win restored faith in the veteran manager and bought him the time and goodwill needed for a new contract. 

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Twelve months later, Wenger won the cup once again. Those two trophy wins have played a crucial role as helping to re-establish Arsenal as a major power in the English game. However, they’ll never carry the weight of a Premier League title win.

With a genuine chance of finishing top of the table in 2015/16, Wenger may have to reassess his priorities when it comes to the cup. 

Speaking prior to the third-round tie against Sunderland, Wenger insisted that he still has every intention of “giving absolutely everything” to ensure the Gunners progress.

He told Arsenal.com:

We want to win every competition we participate in. The FA Cup is one of them, for us it is an important competition. Confidence is a global thing and you can’t really separate it from one competition to another.

My energy is about giving absolutely everything to win the next game. The next game is the FA Cup. For us it is a very important competition as always.

This is a serious competition. I've won the FA Cup six timesthat means I take it seriously. In the whole history, nobody won it more. That means as well that it’s not so easy to win it. You want to feel as well that your team is ready for every single challenge and the FA Cup is one that matters to us.

However, this game comes in the midst of a hectic fixture schedule. After the Sunderland game, Arsenal travel to Liverpool and Stoke City in quick succession before hosting champions Chelsea. Despite the Blues’ struggles this season, that remains a daunting series of games. 

With Manchester City and Leicester City also firmly in the hunt for the title, Arsenal can not afford many dropped points between now and May if they wish to end the season as champions.

Wenger may well be forced to decide that this is the optimum time to rest several members of his weary squad.

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One change will be easy enough—David Ospina is likely to come in as the club’s de facto ‘cup goalkeeper’ instead of Petr Cech. However, tougher decisions lie in Wenger’s outfield selection.

At the moment, Arsenal are utterly reliant on the creative brilliance of Mesut Ozil. But is it realistic to expect him to play all the way through until May without a break? This could be Wenger’s last chance to rest the ingenious German for some time. 

Wenger and Arsenal will still want to land the cup—to win it for a third successive season would be a monumental achievement. However, there is a mounting sense that the Gunners have graduated from cup success and are now ready to land the more precious prize of the Premier League title.

Expectations are shifting, and thus so must Arsenal’s priorities.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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