As paths to FA Cup glory go, Arsenal have a ludicrously kind one. After defeating non-league Sutton United to get into the quarter-finals, the Gunners are now presented with a tie against Lincoln to make it to Wembley for the semi-finals. That is Lincoln of the National League themselves, by the way.
The Gunners needed redemption after their humiliation in midweek at the hands of Bayern Munich. That 5-1 defeat is far from forgotten after beating Sutton, but it has at least put a very temporary plaster over the gushing, raw wounds.
Arsene Wenger is a man under pressure, fans are protesting and each of his interactions with the press are dominated by questions about his future.
Wenger’s status in the FA Cup is a glorious one. He has lifted the trophy six times already in his long, seemingly infinite Arsenal tenure, with the two most recent successes being the perfect antidote to a frustrated fan base. Defeating Hull and Aston Villa in the two finals, Arsenal ended a trophy drought in London bus fashion.
The hostility towards Wenger has spread this time, though. Fans are not only mouthing off on Arsenal Fan TV, they are furious at the clubs inability to improve. The wider media is questioning Wenger in a way that the Frenchman has not faced before, there is a feeling that the end is nigh.
His successes as Arsenal’s manager cannot be overstated. Winning a double, guiding his team to an unbeaten season and developing Thierry Henry into one of the best players in a generation, Wenger’s place in the history of English football is well deserved. The latter years of his time at Arsenal are rapidly diminishing in value, however.
The FA Cup has been a good friend of Wenger in recent years, but Arsenal will be hurt as a football club if another Wembley triumph saves his position and earns him another contract. While the Gunners have readily rested their stars in earlier rounds of the tournament, the importance the Cup now holds for Arsenal is a reflection of their woes in the Premier League and Champions League.
Although both Manchester clubs, Tottenham and Chelsea remain in the competition, Arsenal are the only team who see this as their only cause for hope in the remainder of the campaign. A lifeline for Wenger before, Arsenal are once again left with only one faint hope of silverware with months of the season remaining.
In line for the third FA Cup success in four years, Arsenal have consolidated their position away from the favoured trophies of Europe’s biggest clubs. Far from a league title once again and with their European season all but over, another FA Cup would be an unwanted reminder of where Arsenal are right now. They are a team with talent, but led by a manager no longer able to contest for the trophies that really matter to fans.