Arsene Wenger: If United beat Chelsea, title race is back on
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has questioned the "conflicting" scheduling of Saturday's Barclays Premier League showdown between Chelsea and Manchester United in direct competition with their FA Cup semi-final against Reading at Wembley.
The Gunners take on the Royals at 5:20pm which will be shown live on the BBC. However, only some 10 minutes later, the Premier League leaders will kick off on Sky Sports against third-placed United at Stamford Bridge.
Under Premier League broadcast deals, the selection of Chelsea versus Manchester United was set back in February, when the FA Cup semi-finalists were still unknown. The Football Association and rights holders BBC and BT Sport decide independently on the weekend slots for their competition.
Despite the fixtures timings not playing out as all broadcasters may have first hoped, Wenger still feels more consideration should have been made to keep the two high-profile games separate.
"I am a bit surprised that a (Premier League) game of the same stature is played at the same time. There is a bit of conflict there that is difficult to understand," said Wenger at his pre-match media conference on Thursday morning.
"Something should be done about it.
"I am surprised that they did not analyse that in television deals because basically what happens there, it is something that should have been planned, that two television channels who pay a lot of money for football have conflicted interests in promoting games. That inside the country shouldn't happen."
Wenger added: "You would like it (FA Cup) to be the unique competition that is played, especially a semi-final and a final, you would want it not to conflict with other competitions."
Chelsea could extend their lead over Arsenal to 10 points should they beat United, but also remain just seven ahead and level on matches if they are defeated by Louis van Gaal's in-form side.
Arsenal host Chelsea next weekend, but Wenger is not looking any further ahead than Saturday's cup tie at Wembley.
"Mathematically yes (defeat for Chelsea would open up the title race again), but we have to win our games. That is all we can do," Wenger said.
Arsenal have a near full-strength side to choose from this weekend, with midfielder Jack Wilshere having returned to full fitness, although captain Mikel Arteta is not yet back in contention from his injury lay-off nor is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Wenger feels the fierce competition for places can only be positive.
He said: "Everybody feels that it is difficult to get in the team, all the players have top, top quality.
"Of course it's difficult for me as well to make these kind of decisions.
"You do not ask anybody to understand that he doesn't play because they all deserve to play.
"They have to accept it and to respect the decision, that is what you want from the players."
One player who has watched from the bench in recent weeks is Theo Walcott, his last appearance as a substitute in the 2-0 Champions League win in Monaco on March 17.
The 26-year-old is out of contract at the end of the 2015-16 season, and speculation has already begun over his future with talks over a new deal still to be finalised.
Wenger, though, hopes that will be at the Emirates Stadium.
"Yes I am confident because I believe that Theo has a great future," said the Arsenal boss.
"He is just coming back from a very, very difficult injury. Every week he is getting better.
"Theo is very young and I believe he will have a great goalscoring record in the future because of the quality and intelligence of his game, and therefore I would like him to stay with our club."
Wenger also confirmed he expected veterans Arteta and Tomas Rosicky to agree contract extensions before the end of the season.
Arsenal needed penalties to get past Wigan in last season's semi-final, before going on to beat Hull on their return to Wembley after being 2-0 down early in the final.
"We know that it (semi-final) is always tricky. We have learnt from Wigan last year," he said.
"The urgency level will be quite high in our team."
Wenger added: "Reading have many players who have the experience in the Premier League.
"They have a very efficient style, who go a lot for crosses, so for us they can be a danger going forward."