LONDON – Arsenal needs a swift turnaround against Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Sunday to get fans back on side.
For so long a hero to Arsenal fans, manager Arsene Wenger was jeered during last weekend’s 2-1 Premier League defeat against Manchester United.
Wenger said he has nothing to prove after leading the Gunners to three Premier League titles but knows the only way to get supporters cheering again is for the team to start picking up positive results.
“I always believe the fans’ reaction depends on us,” Wenger said Friday. “It is the team which has to get the fans behind them and the fans have to be proud of the team. The vibes have to come from us.”
But Wenger will again be relying on a patched up defence against a Villa side that has scored nine goals in its last three away games.
Out of contention for the Premier League title, Arsenal’s injury problems mean it has been playing without specialist fullbacks since early December. Now it needs the likes of teenagers Nico Yennaris and Ignasi Miquel to plug the gaps at the back against Villa to prolong its interest in England’s premier cup competition.
The 18-year-old Yennaris has started only once for Arsenal and made two more appearances as a substitute but knows how important the FA Cup is.
As an Arsenal fan, Yennaris is steeped in the club’s history and watched his team win three of four finals between 2001 and 2005.
And this season’s tournament represents arguably the club’s best chance of ending a near seven-year streak without a trophy.
“I remember going to those four finals with my dad,” Yennaris said. “Some were good, some not so good. The Liverpool one was the first I went to at the Millennium Stadium and we lost that game, Michael Owen scored in the last 10 minutes.
“Then there was Chelsea where Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg scored a couple of screamers, Southampton where Pires scored and then Man United where Vieira scored the winning penalty.”
Yennaris made his Premier League debut as a halftime substitute for Johan Djourou in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat against Manchester United. With Kieran Gibbs, Andre Santos, Carl Jenkinson and Bacary Sagna all injured, he and the 19-year-old Miguel could be the fullbacks against Villa — even though Yennaris isn’t a full-time fullback himself.
“When I came to Arsenal I was actually a striker and then I went to right back,” Yennaris said. “Through the ranks I was playing at centre back and then in central midfield but I probably wasn’t tall enough for centre back.
“(But) I’m quite quick. I can move up and down the line quite well so I think I probably am quite suited.”
Villa is struggling to make an impression in the Premier League but manager Alex McLeish knows how to beat Arsenal, having led Birmingham to a shock victory over the Gunners in last season’s League Cup final.
“We’d like to climb the table as high as we can,” McLeish said. “But the magic of the FA Cup dictates you can’t leave anything to chance and you have to go and do your utmost to get through to the next round. We have a tough away tie, we know that, but the top clubs have proven this season that they are not unbeatable.”
Villa will be without winger Charles N’Zogbia, defender Carlos Cuellar and midfielder Chris Herd, but striker Gabriel Agbonlahor has recovered from illness. Forward Emile Heskey and midfielder Stephen Ireland are also back in contention after recovering from injury.
Also Sunday, Sunderland hosts local rival Middlesbrough.
Liverpool hosts record 11-time FA Cup champion Manchester United in the pick of Saturday’s 12 matches, with United missing as many as 11 players because of injury.
Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Michael Owen, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic were already out before Rio Ferdinand missed last weekend’s win over Arsenal because of a back problem. Phil Jones and Nani were substituted because of injury, while Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick also picked up knocks.
“Hopefully we’ll have two or three training this morning and we’ll be better by tomorrow,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “It is not the best situation for us.”