Arsene Wenger faces a difficult decision over how to juggle his resources over the next few days. Arsenal face two fixtures in two cup competitions, and will need to decide how best to keep their dwindling hopes of silverware alive.
On Sunday the Gunners host Watford in the FA Cup quarter-final, before travelling to Barcelona for the second leg of their last-16 clash with Barcelona. Wenger is unlikely to field the same XI in both games, especially with a crucial Premier League clash against Everton on Saturday lunch-time. Ordinarily, the Barca game would take precedence—the Champions League is conventionally higher on Arsenal’s list of priorities.
However, these are a very a particular set of circumstances. Only the most blindly optimistic of Arsenal fans would suggest they have a chance of progression in Europe. Wenger’s men are two goals down from the first leg, and require a 3-0 win to go through in normal time. Against arguably the finest team on the continent, that looks highly improbable.
Wenger has insisted his team will give everything at the Nou Camp, telling The Guardian: “Barcelona are 95% through but we want to go there and play in the second leg. Realistically, it is very difficult, if not impossible. But we have to go there and fight”. His competitive spirit is admirable, but Wenger must realise that prioritising the Barcelona game could come at the cost of two chances of a domestic trophy.
Arsenal do still have a slim possibility of success in the Premier League. Although the Gunners currently trail both Leicester and Tottenham, this season has been so unpredictable it’s impossible to write them off—yet. Defeat at Everton could, however, be the final nail in the coffin. Arsenal need to take a strong side to Goodison Park, and ideally one that has not been exhausted by a gruelling affair at the Nou Camp.
In the last round of the cup at Hull, Wenger fielded a heavily rotated side. He included the likes of Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs and Mathieu Flamini—players who are not ordinarily considered first-choice. Meanwhile, the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck all sat out the game on the sidelines. It was presumably his plan to continue with that kind of policy against Watford, but now might be the time to reconsider.
It might be worth allowing Ozil and company to miss the Barcelona game to ensure the Gunners have the best chance of success against Watford and Everton. The FA Cup once again represents Arsenal’s best opportunity to lift a trophy, and to go out at this stage would deliver a crushing blow to the club. Most supporters have already accepted that Europe is beyond them, but going out of the cup would feel like the end of Arsenal’s season.
Of course, selecting a weakened team at Barcelona raises the prospect of humiliation. However, even Arsenal’s strongest side could well be humbled at the Nou Camp. Wenger must accept the need to be pragmatic and concentrate his resources to afford Arsenal the best chance of success.