Lincoln prepared for Arsenal backlash as Wenger looks to end traumatic spell

By Andrew Mangan Share Tweet 24 minutes ago Lincoln prepared for Arsenal backlash as Wenger looks to end traumatic spell

Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley discusses his side's hopes of beating Arsenal in the FA Cup.

You don't have to look too hard these days to find people who routinely dismiss the FA Cup as a competition of minimal importance.

Often, they'll talk about how the cup has lost its lustre; how the money swilling around the Premier League and the Champions League has left it battered and diminished in comparison.

There is some truth to that. There's no question that what was seen as a major trophy is now much less so, and the efforts of the Football Association to revitalise it have done little but marginalise it further.

Semifinals at Wembley rather than neutral grounds, taking the sheen off the achievement of getting there for the final; blasting pop-music in the stadium in an effort to create atmosphere, failing to realise that it only prevents it from building; corporate sponsorship and branding; a change to the classic 3pm kickoff time to suit overseas television markets; games played from Friday to Monday; the worst crimes against the cup have been perpetrated by those who are supposed to be the custodians of it.

And yet this week we have a game which in many way encapsulates the long-lost "magic of the cup". Non-league Lincoln City travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal in a quarterfinal. Meeting a team from outside the top divisions in the FA Cup is not unusual, but playing one this far into the competition certainly is.

It's 103 years since a non-league side made it to the quarterfinals, but sadly even that remarkable football story isn't enough for some people to focus on. Such is the attention on Arsene Wenger's future that the news conference was dominated by questions about his intentions, then prematurely shut down by the club's communications director before anyone could ask about Lincoln.

It does them, the game and the FA Cup a disservice, because in this increasingly money and business-dominated sport, we should be celebrating occasions like this one. The Imps, currently top of the National League and in their first season under new manager Danny Cowley, have beaten Oldham, Championship sides Ipswich and Brighton and Premier League outfit Burnley to reach this stage.

By any standards it goes beyond the usual cup run that non-league sides enjoy from time to time, and it's something of a shame that what's happening at Arsenal right now takes the spotlight off that in the build-up to the game.

Wenger has to get a response from his players after the midweek Champions League thumping they got from Bayern Munich. The dressing room does not seem a happy place right now, with bust-ups, leaks, players contradicting the manager in public and performances a long way from where they should be.

Arsenal beat non-league Sutton 2-0 to reach the quarterfinals.

If you were Lincoln, you'd certainly prefer to face this somewhat traumatised Arsenal than one which is winning games, confident and playing the kind of football that people expect to see from them.

Even so, it'd be a massive shock if the Gunners didn't make their way to the semifinals. They dispatched non-league opposition in the last round, beating Sutton United 2-0 on a plastic pitch. Home advantage and a proper surface should allow them to feel much more comfortable, but they'll be facing a side with nothing to lose and who will give it everything for the 90 minutes.

Wenger will probably rotate his squad a little less than he might have for this game. The importance of the FA Cup to Arsenal's season is obvious. Things have been disastrous in Europe and their title challenge faltered weeks ago, but this remains a chance to lift a trophy. It doesn't matter if it's diminished in stature, winning something this season would help salve the very open wounds.

They still have a full week between this fixture and their next Premier League game, plenty of time for players to recover, and Lincoln may find themselves facing more of the big guns than they might if Arsenal had other interests.

As much as it's a great story, Arsenal fans will be hoping their team can show there's more to them than petty squabbles and dismal capitulations, and the non-league side might very well face a backlash.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.

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