Arsène Wenger has said Arsenal can make history this season by completing a clean sweep of major trophies, lifting the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup and the Carling Cup.
It has been more than five years since Wenger last delivered silverware – the 2005 FA Cup – but he is convinced that this season Arsenal could mark the end of that trophy famine with an unprecedented feast. “I believe we can go to the end of every competition,” Wenger said. “But we can also stop very quickly. It’s just down to how much we believe and how much commitment we show.”
Wenger’s confidence is fuelled by the fact that several of the obstacles that have undermined previous campaigns appear to have been overcome this season. First, with the Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen the only major enforced absence, Arsenal are approaching the business end of the season with almost all of their key players available. Second, Wenger believes his team have matured and shed the mental frailties that cost them in the past – he identified the midweek win over Barcelona and December’s 3-1 Premier League home victory over Chelsea as crucial milestones in his team’s development.
Third, the manager’s own strategy has changed. Wenger has tended to neglect the domestic cup competitions in order to concentrate on the Premier League and the Champions League but this season he has fielded strong teams both in the Carling Cup and in the FA Cup, seemingly reckoning that progressing in those tournaments would boost morale and momentum.
At the end of this month that approach will be vindicated if Arsenal terminate their trophy wait by beating Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final. Emphasising how much his approach has altered Wenger also indicated that rather than drain his players, playing in every competition helps keep his squad buoyant, since the pile-up of matches means no squad member is left on the sidelines for too long.
“What I am convinced of is that we have the hunger, we have some talent and we are all committed to going as far as we can,” Wenger said.
“Our destiny will be made by how much we can get focus every time, how much we can mobilise our resources in every single game, how much the whole squad is concerned by what is going on. So for us the intelligent attitude and behaviour is to just worry about the next game. My job is to get the team as far as it can and we do not choose to drop any competition. That would be silly.”
That is perhaps bad news for Leyton Orient, who host Arsenal in the last 16 of the FA Cup on Sunday. If Orient’s manager, Russell Slade, is hoping the opposition would arrive at Brisbane Road with their heads still in the clouds after Wednesday’s win over Barcelona, he is likely to be disappointed to hear that Wenger spent Friday studying a DVD of Orient’s recent 3-2 victory over MK Dons and poring over scouting reports that, according to Wenger, identified left-back Charlie Daniels and striker Alex Revell as the League One team’s most dangerous players.
“Between now and the end of the season we have to become stronger in every single game – that is where our destiny lies,” Wenger said. “The media give more importance to some games than others but we have to take our distance from that and be capable of switching from one competition to the other with exactly the same commitment. We must show we can deal with that. I think we can gain more respect from everybody if we turn up on Sunday with absolutely full commitment and then people will say: ‘Oh, maybe this team really is ready to have a real go and not just choose their competitions or games.'”