History, tradition and silverware

Posted by John Cross



It is all too easy to forget what the FA Cup means sometimes. That is why listening to Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger in the build-up to his club's fourth round tie with Coventry on Friday night was refreshing.

Here is a foreign manager who has won the trophy four times -- 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005 -- and has the utmost respect for English football's oldest and most traditional trophy.

It even flies in the face of managers like Aston Villa's Paul Lambert, who crashed out in the third round just days after saying that the FA Cup is a secondary consideration to Premier League survival.

- Bendtner back for Arsenal cup tie

However, you cannot get away from the fact that Wenger does see finishing in the top four as more important than winning a domestic cup competition.

That may annoy Arsenal fans. But the fact is that Arsenal's last trophy was in 2005 and was, of course, the FA Cup.

Back in May 2005, Arsenal beat Manchester United on penalties while Chelsea won the Premier League title. So clearly it meant something back then to Arsenal and Manchester United.

And we all go on about it being eight -- coming on for nine -- years since Arsenal won a trophy.

That's why Wenger's words of respect and determination ahead of the Coventry tie really seemed to strike a chord. Especially as last season Arsenal lost to Blackburn, lost their momentum and finished up empty handed.

Wenger, in his pre-match press conference, said: "This is a very prestigious competition for me. It was the only competition I could watch in France when I was a kid -- the English FA Cup Final. On black and white television, every year we saw the cup final.

"It is true that maybe it does not have the glamour nowadays that it had in the 60's and 70's, but it is still, for me, a very important competition.

"I just remember that I was always admiring Wembley's pitch because I used to play on really bad pitches and the white ball was, for me, a dream to have this kind of ball. I played with a ball with laces at the time so that was always something special to watch."

It is nice also to know that it is not just an English myth to think foreigners do really see the FA Cup as world famous.

The FA Cup can operate as a springboard for Arsenal even if they do not win the Premier League or Champions League.

One trophy often follows another. That's why I think you will see the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Nicklas Bendtner all play.

But otherwise it will be a full strength team with a bit of resting and rotating with an eye on next Tuesday's trip to Southampton in the Premier League.

Arsenal want a trophy, they need a trophy and the FA Cup will do the fans just nicely. That's why there can be no easing up, especially after last year's painful lesson against Blackburn.

Wenger has won it four times, likes tradition, and wants a fifth. Another nice touch is the respect being paid to long suffering Coventry fans.

Arsenal fans, through the supporters' group Red Action, have pledged to applaud when Coventry fans hold up placards on the 35th minute and 61st minute of the game.

The first, to show how far they have to travel to home games from the original ground after being evicted among money problems. The second, out of respect to Jimmy Hill, who took charge in 1961 and is suffering from dementia.

Again, Coventry have an FA Cup tradition after winning it in 1987 in one of the all-time great finals.

And while we have great managers like Wenger, who respect tradition, football is in safe hands.

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