Arsenal season on line as Sunderland loom

The inquest into Arsenal's Champions League humiliation in Milan was uncomfortable for Arsene Wenger and there will be more of the same if they exit the FA Cup at the hands of Sunderland on Saturday.

Updated: February 17, 2012 09:15 IST
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London: The inquest into Arsenal's Champions League humiliation in Milan was uncomfortable for Arsene Wenger and there will be more of the same if they exit the FA Cup at the hands of Sunderland on Saturday.

Wenger's side head to the Stadium of Light for the fifth-round tie knowing the competition now represents their last realistic chance of silverware this season.

The manager made no attempt to disguise his shock and disappointment at his side's performance in losing 4-0 to AC Milan and conceded that they have little chance of recovering the daunting deficit in the second leg.

That increases the pressure on the meeting with Martin O'Neill's team as the Gunners attempt to end their seven-year trophy drought.

Criticism of Wenger has grown steadily over the course of the season, with some Arsenal supporters voicing their frustration at the manager's apparent unwillingness to pursue higher profile -- and more expensive -- targets in the transfer market.

Now the manager must attempt to revive his squad's morale ahead of the Sunderland game if he is to avoid another crushing defeat.

"A big disappointment like that has consequences on your belief," said Wenger.

"We have a lot of work to regroup and not a lot of time to prepare for Saturday's game. We need to show something completely different on Saturday.

"It is a good opportunity to show we have character and mental strength and that we can respond after such a shocking defeat."

Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen maintained the theme, and said: "It's always good when you have a disappointing evening when you have another game quite quick. That's good for us and we have to focus on that.

"That's why you are a professional. What happened there is behind us and we have to learn from that. The most important thing is to be mentally strong and focus on the next game. We have to prepare for that and have a good result there.

"We have to forget what happened and just keep going on to the next game."

A miserable night for Arsenal was made worse by an injury to centre-back Laurent Koscielny, who was forced out of the game in the first half and joins Per Mertesacker on the sidelines.

Mertesacker is out with an ankle injury and Wenger must decide whether to switch Alex Song to the back four or recall out-of-favour Sebastien Squillaci for the second meeting of these two teams inside a week.

They met last weekend in the Premier League, when Thierry Henry's late winner ensured Arsenal left the north-east with three points.

Henry will not be returning to the Stadium of Light, however, as his loan spell from New York Red Bulls has now expired.

Sunderland have enjoyed an impressive run since O'Neill succeeded Steve Bruce as manager, winning nine of their 15 games since the Northern Irishman took charge and moving well clear of the Premier League relegation zone.

Midfielder Sebastian Larsson said: "We'll still be very high, even though we lost last weekend.

"We know what we've done and what we're capable of, and it's about keeping that run going until the end of the season.

"The games are coming thick and fast now and there's not that much of the season left so we need to finish it off as strongly as we can."

And he added: "When you get to this stage of the cup, you're only a few games away from going to Wembley and anything can happen now.

"That's especially true with us being at home and playing as we have been lately.

"We're confident we can progress. It's going to be difficult against a team like Arsenal, but we'll take a lot of positives from last week and go into this weekend's game really believing we can win it."

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