Arsène Wenger dreams of FA Cup salvation for himself and Arsenal

• Semi-final against Wigan may affect manager's contract
• Wenger laments recent failures of his trusted defence

For Arsène Wenger, a moment of escapism from Arsenal's pressures inspired a striking change of body language. The weary wrinkles softened and a gigantic smile spread across his face as he remembered first watching the FA Cup as a boy in his home village of Duttlenheim, something he likened to a dream. The little details came flooding back. How he had to pay one franc at school to watch the black and white television.

"What stays in my memory is exactly the place where I sat at school," he said, caught up in nostalgia. "What struck me at the time was that the ball was white and small and the pitch was perfect, absolutely immaculate. Because I played in a village where the pitch was a disaster! The players had their hair well combed, and the managers were relaxed at that time – they joked together on the bench." He looked incredulous. "That always struck me …"

All these decades later, as he allowed himself the moment of reverie it seemed to do him the world of good. Some time out to stop thinking about the complications which have piled up in Arsenal's season. A pause from grappling with the calamitous defeats which have dented confidence. A break from wrestling with the timebomb of a soon-to-expire contract and the ramifications for himself and his club of the last 18 years. This diversion, even for a couple of minutes, almost looked like a relief.

Then there was a jolt back to reality. The question was inevitable. Will results over the next six, or possibly seven, games have a bearing on his future? Everything tightened. Wenger's body tensed and his voice became curt. "None," he said. When pressed, he blocked that avenue of conversation, simply adding, "I don't want to talk about that today."

This sensitive subject will not go away, though. From Arsenal's perspective there is a broader issue at stake when they meet Wigan at Wembley on Saturday than the settling of an FA Cup semi-final. If Arsenal fare well, the question of Wenger's future will flick on to the next game. If they falter, it may come to an unpleasant head there and then.

On the day the draw for the last four of the FA Cup was made, Arsenal were third in the Premier League, and 11 points in front of Everton (who were seventh). A place in the top four looked comfortable, and the chance to win silverware at Wembley opened up with Wigan, Sheffield United and Hull in the mix. What has happened since has shaken Wenger deeply.

Five points out of a possible 15 in the Premier League, including such emphatic scorelines at Chelsea and Everton, has ramped up the pressure. Wenger is struggling to understand why a defence which seemed so robust in the first half of the season has developed a tendency to crumble. "What has been strange in our season is that for a long time we looked very strong defensively, we had an outstanding defensive record, and we lost it suddenly. That's the surprise of the season for me," he said.

Another common theme in their disappointments is an inefficient start that has set the tone for them to be easily shocked and Wenger has been stressing the importance of a brighter opening against Wigan. "Who would say it is not important to start strongly? The authority you put on the game is linked with the way you start. When you don't start strong you always put yourself in a dangerous situation."

Arsenal's FA Cup run has inspired some of their most confident and convincing football of 2014. In defeating three Premier League opponents – Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton – and easing past Coventry, they have proved capable of rising to the occasion. Wenger is mindful, though, that Wigan deserve the utmost respect, having beaten Manchester City at the Etihad to get back to Wembley.

That sets him off on another riff about the romance of the FA Cup. "Everyone can dream of winning it at the start of the season. It is a dream open to everybody and that is the beauty of the FA Cup. Last year Wigan won it, this year you have Sheffield United in the semi-final and that kind of dream open to everybody makes the competition special. In the league you can talk and talk but we know the biggest budget will win it. That open dream is what makes this competition special in football.

"Don't imagine I sacrifice every day of my life not to win a trophy. Everybody fights for that."

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