COMBATIVE midfielder Serge Gnabry feels the FA Cup is the perfect opportunity for Arsenal’s youngsters to show they have what it takes to hold their own in the first team.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is expected to rotate his side for this afternoon’s fifth-round showdown against Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium, with perhaps one eye on next week’s crunch Champions League clash against Bayern Munich.
That could mean striker Olivier Giroud and vice-captain Mikel Arteta are given a breather, which would open the door again for 18-year-old Gnabry – who started both the previous ties against Tottenham and Coventry – to have another chance to impress.
“I am eager to get back in the team and I’m trying my best in training,” said German youth international Gnabry. “I am hoping to catch the manager’s eye and hoping to get back in the starting XI. The FA Cup is a great opportunity for young players. I really enjoy playing in the competition and I hope we make it to the final.
“We have got a chance, and it doesn’t matter who is still in the cup because in the end you have to play the best teams.
“I think it is going to be a great game for sure and we just want to make it to the next round.”
Wenger maintains he will not make too many changes which would compromise the integrity of his side.
“I play a team with a good opportunity, a good chance to qualify,” he said. “Will I rest one player, or two or three? I don’t know yet. Certainly we will just have one focus, which is to win the game.”
The Arsenal manager added: “We will go for any competition we can, and the FA Cup is one of the competitions and it is our next game so of course we will go for it.”
Wenger – who was branded as a “failure specialist” by rival Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho following his own comments about the state of the Barclays Premier League title race on Friday morning – accepts his side must step up over a crunch period of the campaign.
The Gunners boss, though, insists there can be no thoughts of what happened against Liverpool last weekend, when his team were thrashed 5-1 at Anfield, where they trailed 4-0 inside the opening 20 minutes. “You can say what you want, when you have just conceded five goals you do not go into the next game and act like nothing happened,” said Wenger, whose side drew 0-0 at home to Manchester United on Wednesday.
“I feel that we got the mental response I expected from the team – hugely committed, but with a bit more confidence and were a bit more composed on the ball.”
Wenger added: “The mental shape the level of confidence of the team and the positive vibes that are within the team are always very important, therefore the results in any competition can have an influence.”
Santi Cazorla is struggling with a virus, but midfielder Mathieu Flamini is available again following a three-match suspension.
For Liverpool, centre-back Daniel Agger’s return to fitness could be just the lift the defence needs after their leakiness was exposed in recent weeks.
The Reds have kept only two clean sheets against top-flight opposition since mid-December and individual errors have contributed to that disappointing tally.
Kolo Toure has been responsible for two mistakes in three matches, gifting an equaliser to West Brom and then scoring an own goal against Fulham in midweek and his place is most under threat from Agger’s return to the squad after missing six matches with a calf problem.
But while the purists may rejoice at the return of Liverpool’s only genuine ball-playing centre-half – whose ability fits perfectly with Brendan Rodgers’ insistence of building from the back – the manager stressed the most important thing about a defender was being able to do his primary job properly.
“I like defenders to defend first,” he said. “Everyone talks about ball-playing centre-halves but you have to be able to defend and be able to cope with that first.
“Obviously if you have the qualities then we want you to play because it is important how we build our game and there is no doubt Daniel Agger is an outstanding footballer.”
While Liverpool have dragged themselves into the Premier League title race, sitting just four points off the top in fourth place, Rodgers insists that will not affect their cup preparations.
In fact, he believes Arsenal’s pending Champions League clash at home to Bayern Munich next week may have more bearing on the fixture.
“We want to win the FA Cup, that’s our objective,” he added. “We’ve got no midweek game so we can go as strong as we wish to go.
“It’s probably different for Arsenal, who have a massive game after ourselves in the Champions League, so they may have to look at it differently.
“We won’t need to rest anybody.”