LONDON, April 22 ― Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal's FA Cup fate won't define his future, but the beleaguered Gunners boss desperately needs a victory over Manchester City in tomorrow's semi-final to keep his growing army of critics at bay.
Wenger has been under siege like never before in his 21-year reign as furious Arsenal fans call for his resignation following a lacklustre campaign.
The Gunners' failure to challenge for the Premier League title was compounded by their slide out of the top four, leaving Wenger's record of qualifying for the Champions League for the last 19 years in grave danger.
Factor in a Champions League last 16 humiliation against Bayern Munich and it is easy to see why even the most staunch Arsenal loyalists are starting to believe it is time for Wenger to go.
With Wenger yet to reveal whether he will sign an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of the season, many Arsenal supporters are trying to shove the 67-year-old to the exit door.
Even becoming the first manager to lift the FA Cup seven times, surpassing George Ramsey's haul of six with Aston Villa between 1887 and 1920, wouldn't stop Wenger's critics questioning the alarming drop in standards he has presided over in recent years.
But those close to Wenger believe he is still leaning towards staying and, if that proves the case, the Frenchman could do with delivering some silverware to salve the wounds of the last eight months.
“My future is Sunday. The FA Cup is a very important game for me because it's the next game and because it's an opportunity to win a trophy this season,” Wenger said.
“What I expect when you go into a semi-final is to go to the final.
“We are maybe not at the maximum of our confidence because we had recently some disappointing results.
“But that is a good opportunity to show we are ready for a fight and how much we want to go to the final.
“It's maybe our only opportunity to get a trophy this season.”
Against that backdrop, Arsenal head to Wembley to face City under the kind of pressure that has often proved too much for Wenger's brittle team to handle.
At least they steadied the ship a little with a win at Middlesbrough last Monday, while the FA Cup holds good memories for the north Londoners, who are bidding to reach the final for the third time in the last four years after winning the competition in 2014 and 2015.
While Arsenal would set a record if they make a 20th FA Cup final appearance, City are hoping to reach the final for the first time since 2013 as Pep Guardiola chases his first trophy in England.
It has been a trying debut season for City boss Guardiola, who admits to having learnt a lot in a league far more cutthroat than the Spanish and German divisions he dominated with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
City's 4-0 thrashing at Everton in January was the heaviest league defeat suffered by Guardiola in his glittering managerial career, while their Champions League last 16 exit against Monaco was the earliest he had bowed out of that tournament.
With fourth placed City 11 points behind leaders Chelsea, the Spaniard would gladly use FA Cup success as a way to accentuate the positives while he plans a summer overhaul of his underachieving squad.
City took four points from their two meetings with Arsenal in the league this season and Germany winger Leroy Sane, who scored in both games, hopes to torment the Gunners again.
“Can I score again? I hope so,” he said. “I'm really looking forward to playing at Wembley.
“It's my first trip there. I think the big pitch will suit our style of play.
“We just want to win this game because we want to reach the final and then win the competition. We are all motivated and ready.”
Fixtures (both matches at Wembley)
Chelsea v Tottenham (1615 GMT)
Arsenal v Manchester City (1400 GMT) ― AFP