Arsene Wenger has come out swinging in defence of Arsenal's ability to balance commitments in the Premier League and knockout competitions, as he insisted the Gunners were more than just a cup team.
The Gunners have qualified for four cup finals in their last five seasons which successfully returned three FA Cups and one runners-up medal in the League Cup in February. However, with a second consecutive finish outside the league's top four on the horizon, Wenger has been criticised for his inability to fight on a number of fronts.
The Frenchman defended his team's record as he cited final defeats and scheduling congestion as key contributors in the lack of success across a number of competitions within the same season.
Whilst Arsenal are in line to reach a fifth final in as many years at the end of the season having progressed to the quarter finals of the Europa League following a convincing 3-1 victory over AC Milan, their success in knockout competitions has come at a price to their league ambitions as they currently sit in sixth position in the league, 12 points adrift of fourth place.
When asked why Arsenal had been successful in cup competitions recently, Wenger told the Evening Standard: “Look, we made 75 points last year. We were one point short in the championship and it’s the first time in the history of the Premier League that you don’t qualify for the Champions League with 75 points.
“The year before we finished second in the Premier League. It’s true that this year we struggled but [due] to our away results, not our home results. I wouldn’t like to go too quickly to that kind of conclusion.
“We have done well, as well, in the cups. In the last five years we were in the cup final four times. That means that we have mental resources to turn up when it’s demanded.
“But it’s difficult. When you lose a cup final in the middle of the season it’s very difficult to recover from it no? There are many stats coming out at the moment, it would be interesting to see how well do teams do for the rest of the season when they play the League Cup Final.
“Southampton last year dropped dramatically and it cost [Claude] Puel his job. It happened many times. You had Birmingham when we lost in the final [in 2011]. It is difficult after that to keep the focus of the players."
Having been knocked out of this seasons FA Cup in the third round following defeat to Nottingham Forest, the Gunners only hope of silverware and a place in the Champions League now rests solely on their ability to win the Europa League.
Wenger added: “I’m convinced that the team is strong and healthy. We recovered from that. Hopefully we can focus on something important now.
“The second thing I wanted to say is it’s difficult to do well in the championship and in the Europa League. There’s a statistic that has come out that shows that in all the championships the team who plays in the Europa League struggles. Everywhere in the big five leagues.”
Arsenal will face CSKA Moscow in the quarter finals of the Europa League, with the ties scheduled for the 5th and 12th of April.