Arsenal turn to Ramsey to save Wenger's bacon against Wigan
In the grip of an injury crisis and the manager's future in doubt, the Gunners must face FA Cup giant killers
ARSENAL will welcome Aaron Ramsey back to their starting line-up tomorrow when they face Wigan at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, and if ever they needed him to produce the goods it is against the Championship side with dreams of derailing the Gunners' hopes of a first trophy for almost a decade.
The Welsh midfielder, Arsenal's standout player in the first half of the season, hasn't started a game since sustaining a thigh injury in the win over West Ham on Boxing Day. But with the Gunners in the grip of a major injury crisis with Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere both out, and uncertainty over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky (as well as Mathieu Flamini's suspension), manager Arsene Wenger confirmed that Ramsey will start against Wigan.
Ramsey came on as a substitute during last week's dispiriting defeat at Everton, the Gunners' fourth straight Premier league match without a win, and on the back of such a dismal run-of-form Arsenal go into tomorrow's tie against Wigan as only marginal favourites.
Last season Wigan stunned Manchester City in the FA Cup Final and even though they were subsequently relegated to the Championship, the Lancashire club have reproduced their cup form this season, defeating City once again in last month's quarter-final.
"We highly respect Wigan for what they have done," said Wenger. "They have shown against Manchester City that they can be a dangerous team."
It wasn't so long ago that Wenger spoke disparagingly of the FA Cup, making no secret of the fact his priorities at the start of each season were the Premier League and the Champions League. But with the Gunners no longer in contention for either, the FA Cup is Arsenal's last chance this season to end their nine-year trophy drought.
"The Champions League was vital for us until now and, for me, at the start of the season the minimum requirement," admitted Wenger. "A cup is a dream open to everybody and that is the beauty of the FA Cup. We are back at Wembley and it's great. It's an important competition. You know we will not fight for the championship any more [this season], so it's the only competition."
Arsenal's victory over Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup was the Gunners' last success under Wenger and he knows that another season without silverware would only increase calls among the fans for his resignation.
Asked about what the future held for him during Thursday's press conference, Wenger became visibly agitated, telling reporters: "It is not about next season, it is about this season... for us what is very important is to win the semi-final and it's important we focus on that."
Wenger's side are still in with a chance of finishing fourth in the Premier League and qualifying for next season's Champions League, though for that to happen it will require Everton to drop points between now and the end of the season.
When it was put to the Arsenal manager which he would prefer, FA Cup success or fourth in the Premier League, Wenger replied: "I will not choose because what is important after our performance against Everton is to respond well. That's where our future lies: in our capacity to respond with a strong performance in the next game, and the next game is the FA Cup."