AS happy as Steve Bruce would be to avenge the 2014 FA Cup final defeat, the Hull City manager admits a desire to play Arsenal in the Premier League next season means he has to prioritise next week’s league double-header over today’s fifth round tie.
The Tigers meet the Gunners for a third consecutive season in the Cup on an afternoon that also sees Leeds United head to Watford.
Hull sit on top of the Championship and face two tough assignments in the space of four nights next week courtesy of Tuesday’s trip to play-off chasing Ipswich Town and Friday’s televised home game with Sheffield Wednesday.
The Owls are in action today, at Preston North End, along with Burnley, Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion, meaning the top of the table could be even more concertinaed by 5pm.
With that trip to Portman Road in mind, Bruce will rest a host of key players today against the Cup holders.
“It is quite simple for me,” said the City chief. “We want to be playing Arsenal twice next year. We want to play Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. We want to be back in the Premier League.
“Plus, let’s be fair and brutally honest, even if I put out our strongest possible team, the odds would still be stacked against us.
“I am not saying we can’t win (at the Emirates) but it will be difficult.”
Nick Powell will be handed his debut for City as part of wholesale changes that should also offer starts to Alex Bruce, Ahmed Elmohamady, David Meyler, Eldin Jakupovic, Harry Maguire and Adama Diomande.
With City having lost to Arsenal in the 2014 final and then at the third round stage last year, Bruce is well aware that a hat-trick of exits to the north London side is a big possibility.
Asked if the Wembley loss in extra-time after the Tigers had taken a 2-0 lead still stung, the 55-year-old added: “I can’t think about it a lot now.
“But, at the time, I remember going back and watching it for the first time about a month later. It was only then that it began to sink in how close we were.
“To be 2-0 up in a cup final, we just needed to get to half-time with that lead. Their first shot on goal was (Santi) Cazorla bending one in the top corner. If that hadn’t have gone in, maybe it would have been different.”
Asked if he felt that was his big chance to lift a major trophy as a manager, Bruce quipped: “I hope I get that close again but I keep drawing Arsenal away!
“Look, we will be giving it our best shot. Even with the team we are putting out, there will be experienced players who are champing at the bit to play. They will be fresh as a daisy.”
Hull’s priority remains the league, unlike Leeds, who are 11 points clear of trouble and well off the pace of the pack chasing the play-offs.
That puts greater emphasis on today’s trip to Vicarage Road. Lose, and United’s season is effectively over.
“FA Cup week is always very special,” said head coach Steve Evans. “The magic of the Cup says we go there to try and produce a performance that makes sure we come back up to Yorkshire still in the FA Cup.
“My first thought after the draw was it will be tough. Exceptionally tough. I’d just watched Watford and had been impressed.
“This is the FA Cup so it is all about the result. Would I settle for it if we played rubbish and get through 1-0? Of course.
“But results largely come on the back of good performances. What I do tell my players in the FA Cup is that this isn’t a league game and there is no coming back.
“You can’t be average in the FA Cup next week. Or you are out.”
Multiple changes may be expected at the Emirates to both starting line-ups, thanks to Hull travelling to Ipswich Town on Tuesday as Arsenal host Barcelona in the Champions League.
Watford do not have the distraction of either Europe or a league fixture in midweek so Evans is expecting the likes of Troy Deeney to start.
“He has multiple options but I would expect them to be very, very strong,” said Evans. “They can pick any XI from the 25-man squad.
“It will be exceptionally tough. Troy Deeney is one of the stars of the Premier League right now. There could be an argument why Deeney makes that plane (to Euro 2016 in the England squad).”