Arsene Wenger 'unwilling to take gamble' in FA Cup win over Lincoln
Arsene Wenger admitted he did not want to gamble on his team selection as Arsenal proved too strong for non-league Lincoln, easing to a 5-0 win in their FA Cup quarter-final at the Emirates Stadium.
In a week which has seen Arsenal's Premier League and Champions League hopes end in humiliating fashion, Wenger knew that a win in the world's oldest club competition could be the one shining light to their season.
The Vanarama National League leaders, however, more than held their own in the first half before Theo Walcott put the Gunners ahead at the interval.
Wenger has already won the FA Cup a record-equalling six times and therefore knew the importance of the game even against lowly opposition, defending his decision to field a strong starting line-up.
"I didn't want to gamble today because I knew that it was very important to win the game," Wenger said during his post-match press conference.
"I felt as well, on the other hand, that the team had performed well against Bayern and I wanted to give them a chance to find their confidence back by winning the next game. And that's why I maintained 90 per cent of the players in the starting line-up.
"We were a bit nervous because your confidence drops when you don't have the results. The team was unjustifiably criticised for our last game against Bayern Munich because we had an outstanding game.
"The game was killed not by the fault of the players but we have to take a distance with us and have a look at the bigger perspective than people want to do.
"Overall we had to respond today and that's what we did. We had an outstanding game against Bayern Munich but our game was killed by the referee. I watched this game three times now and it's still the referee who killed our game."
With around 9,000 travelling Lincoln fans cheering their side on, Arsenal struggled to gain a stronghold in the game and Wenger gave credit to the visitors for making life tough for his side.
"You could see in the first half that they had a very direct game, but they had clarity about what they wanted to do and they did that very well.
"Overall I think for us it was important to be focused not to make a mistake. They had a big crowd behind them as well and they had a chance. There was a big save from Petr Cech in the first half."
Lincoln boss Danny Cowley was left to reflect on what could have been as the Imps' historic FA Cup run came to an end.
With the score at 0-0, winger Nathan Arnold had their best chance in the first half as he cut inside to force Cech into a decent save.
Despite restricting the Premier League side to limited chances before Walcott's opener, Cowley believes his side should take inspiration from their first-half performance and took time to pay tribute to their fans who made the trip.
"I think we have to take a lot from our performance, particularly the first 45 minutes," Cowley said.
"I thought that we restricted Arsenal to limited chances in that first 45 minutes, we had a good one of our own, fantastically well worked by Nathan Arnold, great save by Petr Cech.
"I think you know coming into the game that you're going to have limited moments, you want to try and take them. I thought Nathan did brilliantly for it.
"He worked it fantastically. He could have snatched at it but he showed the calmness just to step inside, the goal opened up. I thought it was a good strike...that goes in in the National League.
"For me, we have to be inspired by playing at this wonderful football stadium against world-class players, but more than that we have to make sure that we take loads of learning from this.
"We need to learn from this journey, not just from today but this journey. And if we can really, really learn and take something from playing against world-class players then we will be better footballers and players as a result.
"I did our fans a massive disservice in the week because I said they were Premier League. They were much, much better than that. You saw world-class players play today in the Arsenal team but you also heard and witnessed world-class supporters because that's how good they were.
"Nine thousand of them out-sung 51,000 Arsenal supporters today and that is a fact."