Arsène Wenger continues to prize Champions League qualification above winning the FA Cup, despite Arsenal's six‑year trophy drought and his determination to succeed in the domestic game's leading knock-out competition, beginning at home to Leeds United in the third round on Monday night.
The manager, who has serious selection worries in the full-back positions and is also expected to grant Thierry Henry playing time at some stage, is proud of the club's record of reaching the Champions League group phase for 14 seasons in succession, and he offered a sharp reminder that only Arsenal and Chelsea of the Premier League's representatives had made it to the last 16 this time out. Arsenal face a two-legged tie against Milan.
Wenger suggested that one day in the future, presumably when the club are not Champions League regulars, people would realise "that it is not as easy as it looks" and perhaps value the achievement more highly. As he outlined the reasons why qualification to Europe's elite tournament was essential, chiefly for balance sheets and player ambition, he conceded that the FA Cup was more of a "bonus".
"For us, the Champions League and FA Cup are not comparable. The Champions League is compulsory. The FA Cup is something that is for enjoyment. It is a bonus that we want. The Champions League, for us, is something that is needed.
"It is more important. That means you will want me to say it's not important to win on Monday … it is very important to win on Monday for us. But the basis of our life at the top level is dictated by the championship. If we can add on top of that the FA Cup, it is fantastic. But our life, at the level where we are, with the wages we have and the aspirations we have, is to play in the Champions League. After that, you want, of course, to win all the other trophies."
It was put to Wenger that players usually want to look back at winners' medals at the end of their careers but the Frenchman, who admitted that he did not know where he kept his own medals, argued the point and, in the process, further reinforced his view of the Champions League's primacy.
"They want to play at the top level, the players, first of all. I don't know where I have my medals. I look forward for the next one, for the next game, for the next win. That's the life of a top-level player. A top-level player wants to play at the top. He wants to win medals. But there is a difference between playing in the Champions League and playing at a lower level."
Henry, who completed his loan move back to Arsenal before midday last Friday, making him eligible to feature against Leeds, has said that "the boss knows that I need to work a bit so I know I am not able to play out there right from the start." Wenger, who also says that Henry is not yet ready for the full 90 minutes, must decide whether his impact would be felt most keenly at the outset or as an impact substitute, bearing in mind that his pace has diminished.
More vexing for Wenger are his defensive problems. All four of his recognised full-backs are injured, and he is also without Thomas Vermaelen, also injured, and the suspended Johan Djourou. Wenger's options in the full-back positions extend to Francis Coquelin, Ignasi Miquel, Sébastien Squillaci and Nico Yennaris.