Michael Laudrup says pressure is on Arsenal ahead of Swansea City FA Cup clash
MICHAEL Laudrup does not expect Arsenal's followers to take umbrage when he suggests the FA Cup offers their best chance of landing a trophy this season.
"They have two possibilities left," the Swansea City manager points out, "in the FA Cup and the Champions League.
"I don't think I will offend any Arsenal fans by saying that maybe they have more chance of winning the FA Cup when you look at the teams who are still in the Champions League."
And hence, Laudrup argues, all the pressure at the Liberty Stadium tomorrow will be on the team in the away dressing room.
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For Swansea, the FA Cup third round is something of a distraction.
Only a few years ago, the prospect of a cup meeting with the stars of the Emirates would have been the talk of the city, with tickets like gold dust and anticipation all round.
Swansea have waited a long time to draw one of the country's heavyweight clubs in the FA Cup.
There was a near miss in 2008 when Roberto Martinez's team went down at Havant & Waterlooville and were denied a trip to Anfield as a result.
Then again 12 months later, having outplayed Fulham at home but only drawn and then lost the replay at Craven Cottage, Swansea saw a meeting with Manchester United slip through their fingers.
Now at last Swansea have been paired with one of the top teams — but these days they face them all twice a season.
Now it is not such a big deal that Arsenal are in town, and hence tomorrow's tie is not a sell-out.
"It's a bit different when you are playing these sides week in and week out," says Swansea skipper Garry Monk, one of the survivors from the days when all in SA1 would pray for a plum cup draw.
"But it's the first time one of the big boys has come to the Liberty in the FA Cup and it should be a good day."
Monk is one of the non-regulars who is in contention to play tomorrow as Laudrup considers changes.
The likelihood is that had Swansea exited the Capital One Cup by now, the Dane would have sent out a full-strength side this weekend.
But with the two League Cup semi-finals looming — plus another demanding batch of Premier League games — he is expected to make a handful of changes.
Though Swansea won at Arsenal so spectacularly last month, Arsene Wenger's team would have started as favourites even against Laudrup's strongest line-up.
Given that a couple of frontline Swansea players are likely to be rested, Arsenal should be even more fancied for a game which probably means more to them than it does to their hosts.
Wenger has pledged to put "maximum effort" into winning at Swansea after suggesting there is "nothing between" the 20 clubs in the top flight nowadays following Queens Park Rangers's unlikely win at Chelsea the other night.
No wonder Wenger is taking things seriously, for the stakes look higher for Arsenal.
If Swansea go out of the cup tomorrow, there is unlikely to be any great criticism or adverse reaction.
But should Arsenal be humbled by Laudrup's men for the second time in just over a month, then Wenger can expect another hysterical response.
Arsenal, after all, will be staring at another trophy-less campaign, and their supporters expect better.
"I think the pressure is on them," Laudrup says.
"Arsenal are one of the top teams, and the top teams are obliged to compete right through until the end to win things.
"There can only be one winner in each competition, of course, but at least they have to look to be there in the final.
"So obviously there's more pressure on Arsenal than there is on Swansea at this stage."
Laudrup was a serial title-winner during his playing days but, having managed a succession of clubs who cannot compete for league championships, he is a big fan of the cups.
And as he prepares for a first taste of the FA Cup, he is aware that knockout competitions are more relevant in this country than anywhere else.
"The first difference here is that there are two cups — I think only France is like that," Laudrup says.
"But here the cups, and especially the FA Cup, have more importance than in other countries.
"I can speak from experience about Italy, Spain and Denmark. In those countries the cups only become important once you get to the semi-final.
"Until then people don't really care, but here it is different."
The draw has not been kind to Swansea — though they are at least at home — given that they could have been paired with a non-league team but instead face one of the best sides in the land.
Yet Laudrup argues that the quality of this weekend's opposition may actually help Swansea's chance of progress.
"I think if we had been drawn against a lower-league team, some people would have started to think about Chelsea before we played the FA Cup game," he says.
"But the fact that we are playing Arsenal means that will not happen.
"Everybody knows that we must focus only on this game if we are going to have a chance."