Arsene Wenger to keep rotating in FA Cup despite diminishing league hopes
LONDON -- Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger plans to keep rotating his squad heavily for the FA Cup in the midst of a congested fixture schedule, even though the competition may now represent the team's best chance of silverware this season.
Cup holders Arsenal travel to Hull on Tuesday for an unwanted fifth-round replay after being held to a 0-0 draw at the Emirates, a game that had to be sandwiched in before this weekend's quarterfinals.
That means Arsenal will play a midweek game four weeks in a row, with a return leg against Barcelona up next Wednesday in the Champions League.
Given the intensity of their fixture schedule, Wenger told reporters ahead of the Hull game that he will field a similar team to the previous three games in the FA Cup, even though Arsenal are now eight points behind Leicester in the Premier League
Wenger, who has made up to 10 changes in the FA Cup this campaign, said at his news conference on Monday: "I will have to -- but I'm not so much concerned about replacing one player with another one, it's more I have to rotate a little bit and keep the right balance in the team."
David Ospina will be back in goal after making nine saves in the 2-2 draw at Tottenham on Saturday when filling in for the injured Petr Cech, who is out for up to a month.
Ospina had been used only in the cups this season, but Wenger said the Colombian goalkeeper exemplified Arsenal's squad depth this season.
"I believe we play a team who has a good chance to qualify no matter who plays. David Ospina was just an example of that on Saturday," the Frenchman said.
"I have the same respect and exactly the same idea that every player I have in my squad can play and win the game tomorrow."
While Francis Coquelin is suspended after being sent off against Tottenham, Wenger said he expects to have the rest of the squad available again, with the addition of 19-year-old Alex Iwobi.
The Nigerian teenager has started all three of Arsenal's FA Cup games so far, and Wenger said: "What I see in him is a creative player, who has a high work rate.
"He is a player who develops very well. He has a big passion for the game and overall he can score a goal as well. He can play on the flanks, he can play through the middle. He's a very interesting player."
The need for a replay means Arsenal currently do not know who -- or when -- they will be playing this weekend.
If they beat Hull, they will host Watford in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. If they lose, they play West Bromwich Albion in the league at the Emirates on Saturday.
The extra game was unwanted by both sides, with Championship side Hull also battling a congested schedule as they fight for promotion back to the Premier League.
"We had no choice because the next round in the FA Cup is next Saturday, so we had to fit it in somewhere," Wenger said. "Ideally it's not the best position for us, but I couldn't see any other solution."
With Arsenal having to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Barcelona in order to stay in the Champions League, a loss against Hull would be a massive blow for the club's hopes for silverware this season.
Wenger added: "We are in a position where we always have to win the next game. It's always the most important game of our lives, because it is treated like that by everybody else, and that's the way we treat it.
"It's the most important game of the season for us because it's the next one."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.