London – Arsene Wenger has challenged his Arsenal players to use the FA Cup semi-final against holders Wigan to lift their shattered spirits.
Wenger's side head to Wembley with their confidence in tatters after a miserable run ended their hopes of winning the Premier League and left them fighting to secure qualification for the Champions League.
Last weekend's chastening 3-0 defeat at Everton was a major blow to the Gunners' hopes of securing a top-four finish and the squad's morale is at a low ebb following the latest in a long line of big game flops this season.
Arsenal had already been thrashed at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but it is the loss to Everton which could prove the most costly as the Toffees will climb above them into fourth place if they beat Sunderland on Saturday.
In the circumstances, Wenger knows Arsenal desperately need the confidence boost of moving a step closer to winning a major trophy for the first time since they last lifted the FA Cup in 2005.
“What is important after our performance against Everton is to respond well. That's where our future lies, is our capacity to respond with a strong performance and that is the next game and the next game is the FA Cup,” Wenger said.
“We have lost a little bit of confidence, you could see that against Everton because it all went bad for us.”
Arsenal's Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla added to the sense that their season is in danger of imploding when he was quoted this week saying he may consider leaving because his team-mates “haven't got a winning mentality”.
And even Wenger, usually so upbeat when asked about his team's flaws, struggled to retain his positive outlook as he contemplated a stressful end to the season.
“When results are not going as well, you can always think you can improve,” he said.
“There is no perfect team and we will always try to improve our squad and our team. This season we lost key players at big important moments of the season, but we have to just to focus on finishing as well as we can.”
Adding to Wenger's concern is a growing list of midfield injuries which make it even harder to get back on track.
Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere remain sidelined, while Mathieu Flamini is suspended and, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky both facing late fitness tests, Aaron Ramsey is set to start for the first time since December after recovering from a thigh injury.
“We have a lot of uncertainties,” Wenger said. “At the moment we have too many players out and it is important we get them back.”
Wigan's primary concern is to win promotion via the second tier play-offs, but the fifth placed Latics could prove tricky opponents for the Gunners.
Uwe Rosler's side gave a classy display to stun Manchester City in this season's quarter-finals in a repeat of last season's victory over the Eastlands club in the FA Cup final.
And Rosler revealed he will copy Everton's blueprint as he bids to emulate their victory over the Gunners.
“I watched the game last Sunday and it was another very impressive lesson from (coach) Roberto Martinez, tactically how Everton approached the game,” Rosler said.
“There were good pictures for me to learn from and also take one or two things on board, like I did with Manchester City in the last round.”
In Sunday's second semi-final, Hull City take on League One side Sheffield United with both clubs on the verge of history.
Hull are making their first last-four appearance in the Cup since 1930 and have never reached the final, while a win for United, winners of the competition four times between 1899 and 1925, would make them the first team from the third tier to make the final.
Steve Bruce, Hull's manager, said: “The FA Cup has been flailing over the last few years but these semi-finals bring the romance back to the whole thing.” – Sapa-AFP