Football: Arsenal in Cup test, Everton eye top-four on emotional weekend

Everton's Romelu Lukaku (centre) shoots to score against Arsenal during their English Premier League soccer match at Goodison Park in Liverpool, northern England, on April 6, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Everton's Romelu Lukaku (centre) shoots to score against Arsenal during their English Premier League soccer match at Goodison Park in Liverpool, northern England, on April 6, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Arsenal will bid to get their spluttering season back on track by booking a place in the FA Cup final on Saturday, while Everton have their sights set on the Gunners' top-four berth in the Premier League.

The focus on Saturday will be on Arsenal's semi-final against Wigan at Wembley and Everton's Champions League aspirations before Liverpool commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster by duelling with Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday.

Last weekend's chastening 3-0 defeat at Everton was a major blow to Arsenal's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League and the squad's morale is at a low ebb following the latest in a long line of big game flops this season.

Arsenal had already been thrashed at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but it is the loss to Everton which could prove the most costly as the Toffees will climb above them into fourth place if they avoid defeat at bottom of the table Sunderland on Saturday.

In such dispiriting circumstances, Wenger knows Arsenal, playing in their first FA Cup semi-final since 2009, desperately need the confidence boost of moving a step closer to winning a major trophy for the first time since 2005.

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

Everybody fights for that," Wenger said.

"We are back at Wembley and it is great. It is an important competition.

"You know we will not fight for the championship any more so it is the only competition to go for." Everton will look to exploit Arsenal's league inactivity by stealing a march on Wenger's side at the Stadium of Light.

Everton's European fate is in their own hands, but manager Roberto Martinez is keen to avoid irking Arsenal by playing mind games with Wenger and his players.

"The perception from the outside probably changed last Sunday (after beating Arsenal) that mathematically we have a great opportunity with six games to go, but internally nothing has changed," Martinez said.

"When you get into this sort of fight against a team like Arsenal, who season after season have known how to perform under massive expectation, I don't think you can pile pressure on a team like that."

96 fans died

Meanwhile, next Tuesday marks 25 years since a fatal crush that would claim the lives of 96 Liverpool fans occurred during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough.

As a mark of respect, all professional matches in England this weekend will kick off at seven minutes past the hour, to mark the sixth-minute abandonment of the fateful game.

Liverpool's game against City will also be preceded by tributes, with legendary figures from the two clubs exchanging wreaths on the pitch at Anfield before those inside the ground observe a minute's silence.

The sense of occasion on Sunday will be heightened by the knowledge that victory over title rivals City will take Liverpool closer to a first league crown since 1990.

Brendan Rodgers' side go into the game four points clear of City at the top of the table and although the visitors have two games in hand, their destiny will no longer be in their own hands if they lose.

"It is a significant game, there is no doubt about that," Rodger said.

"It is two teams who have done extremely well this season in their own different ways but there is still a lot of work to do.

"It is what we work for as managers, but I am sleeping very well. I've not dreamt of lifting the title." City are boosted by the likely return of Argentina striker Sergio Aguero from a hamstring injury which sidelined him for five matches and boss Manuel Pellegrini has called on his players to keep calm amid the swirling emotions at Anfield.

"It will be a very emotional day but the team that has the cold mind will win the game," he said.

"It is easy in these big games to have the motivation but it is very important to manage the anxiety." Second-placed Chelsea visit Swansea on Sunday and the Champions League semi-finalists will take over at the top of the table if they win and Liverpool lose.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.