McMahon: Arsenal cup display was painful

FOX Sports pundit Steve McMahon believes Arsene Wenger should be held solely responsible if Arsenal finish yet another season empty-handed.

Jack Wilshere of Arsenal shows his dejection
Steve McMahon

By Steve McMahon

For all their talk of learning from the shock defeat against Bradford City in the Capital One Cup, the Gunners suffered the same fate when Blackburn came to visit last weekend.

The FA Cup was Arsene Wenger's most realistic chance of ending the club's eight year trophy drought, but the Emirates Stadium faithful were treated to yet another painful, insipid display.

It puzzles me how the Gunners could possibly have approached the match with such a nonchalant attitude when their standing in the Premier League table is a clear indication of how poorly they have performed this season. Perhaps they were simply taking cues from their French boss.

While Wenger supporters will argue that the team put out against Rovers possessed sufficient quality to win the tie, I believe it was a big mistake for the Arsenal boss to have rested so many of his key players.

He undoubtedly did so with Champions League last-16 opponents Bayern Munich in mind, a tie which is now very much in their opponents' favour after the Bundesliga leaders recorded a 3-1 win in the first leg at the Emirates. Knowing how desperate the supporters are to add to their silverware, Wenger should have invested more into the FA Cup, a competition his team stood a much better chance of winning.

The Frenchman could have started the likes of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott to secure Arsenal the lead before taking his stars off in preparation for their Bavarian opponents. They might still be in the running for two trophies instead of just one had Wenger not misjudged the situation.

Arsenal cannot afford to lose any of their remaining league fixtures, or they risk backing themselves into the corner of having to win the Champions League to qualify for the competition next season, a scenario that has little to no chance of happening.

I expect the Gunners to be given some respite when they play Aston Villa this weekend, but should their manager decide to tinker with his line-up once more, Christian Benteke might just snatch an opportunity to elevate his stock further.

Unlike Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea did splendidly in their cup ties over the weekend.

The Premier League giants play each other at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, with more on the line for Roberto Mancini. Pressure from the media has intensified following the opening up of a 12-point deficit between his team and league leaders Manchester United, but I do not think the Italian is doing a bad job.

Sir Alex Ferguson had his ranks strengthened considerably over the summer and the blue side of Manchester are now paying the price for not following suit. However, Mancini has dealt admirably with injury blows on top of losing key players to the Africa Cup of Nations and deserves to remain at City even if they finish the campaign empty-handed.

The same cannot be said of Mancini's opposite number this weekend, Rafa Benitez, so Tottenham boss Andres Villas-Boas must be pleased that he no longer has to deal with a trigger-happy chairman. His Spurs side have been thriving in recent weeks, hanging on to fourth place in the table thanks to the form of Gareth Bale.

Tottenham's upcoming opponents West Ham are probably scratching their heads over how to stop the flying Welshman, but even a solution to the Bale problem might not be enough to get them a win. Although Spurs have become heavily reliant on the 23-year old's magical displays, double-marking Bale would simply free up other Tottenham attackers to do the job in his place.

Steve McMahon's Premier League Predictions

Man City vs Chelsea

Chelsea will be rotating their squad because of the Europa League while City will be fresh to face them having had the week free. The Citizens also have the second-best home record in the league, so you have to favour them in this tie.

Prediction: 2-0 (Halftime: 1-0)

Arsenal vs Aston Villa

This is a must-win game for Arsenal especially after two cup losses in the past week. They have to focus on securing UEFA Champions League football for next season, so there should be no excuses for them to not give their all against Aston Villa.

Prediction: 3-0 (Halftime: 1-0)

Fulham vs Stoke

Prediction: 0-1 (Halftime: 0-0)

Norwich vs Everton

Prediction: 1-2 (Halftime: 0-1)

QPR vs Man United

Prediction: 0-2 (Halftime: 0-1)

Reading vs Wigan

Prediction: 1-1 (Halftime: 1-0)

West Brom vs Sunderland

Prediction: 2-0 (Halftime: 1-0)

Newcastle vs Southampton

Prediction: 2-1 (Halftime: 1-0)

West Ham vs Tottenham

Prediction: 1-1 (Halftime: 0-0)



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