“The difference in this round of the FA Cup is that we go to Wembley and Wembley is magic in itself. But the magic has to be combined with the realism of performing on the day. We have the experience to do it and that's what we'll focus on.”
The FA Cup has been Arsenal’s most consistent competition this season - and it needs to stay that way.
Saturday’s semi-final is the first game away from Emirates but, at the same time, it is just the second fixture against a team outside the top six. Only Coventry in the fourth round were straightforward. Tottenham and Everton were controlled yet tough victories while a significantly-altered side had to cling on against Liverpool.
|Arsenal: Flamini (suspended), Walcott (knee), Wilshere (foot), Diaby (knee), Koscielny (calf), Ozil (hamstring), Rosicky (thigh - doubt), Gibbs (ankle - doubt), Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin - doubt)
Wigan Athletic: Watson (leg), McCann (knee), Espinoza (hernia), Kiernan, Waghorn (both cup-tied)
However the holders have been playing like an upper echelon side in this event this season. When Arsenal were drawn against Wigan or Manchester City just before the latter met, only one conclusion could be struck.
Yet Uwe Rosler’s men repeated the feat achieved by Roberto Martinez in last year’s final. But then, according to Wenger, the side had altered little.
“McArthur, McManaman, Boyce, Al Habsi - they are all still there," he said. “While up front they have a lot of choice because they have Powell, Fortune and Maynard. They have McClean too who played at Sunderland so they have plenty of players. It's very difficult to predict who will play but they're all Premier League players.
“They won at Man City so that shows they have the quality. We respect every opponent and you don't get in the semi-final by invitation, you get there because you have made results. We want to respect Wigan and as well put in the effort that will be needed to beat them.”
Wigan have had a strange year in many ways. After winning the cup, their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed by their defeat at Arsenal in their following game. Martinez went and was replaced by Owen Coyle. Then he was replaced by Rosler. Their position in the Championship recovered and they seem certain to secure a play-off berth. All the while their grip on the FA Cup remained; knocking out two other Premier League side before seeing to Man City.
Wigan return to Wembley as outsiders once again. For Arsenal, however, the errors at Everton last Sunday need to be solved. That 3-0 defeat has put their Champions League place in jeopardy; elevation to the FA Cup final is both expected and necessary.
The FA Cup is an opportunity to regenerate the team. We have produced remarkable games against Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool... and we want to continue that run
“The mood was low after Everton because we felt that we failed to turn up with a proper performance,” said Wenger. “The players were questioning themselves of course but we got a strong response in training. Now we want to put it right. The guarantee you want is to put the effort in on Saturday to have a good chance to go to the final. It's a great opportunity, a great challenge for us and we want to take it.”
Interestingly the manager was both specific and definite about the required area of improvement.
“Better defending,” he replied. “We feel that we have a team who has experience, who has been all over Europe to play against big teams, who has a stable defence. But we want to defend better as a unit.
“The FA Cup is also an opportunity to regenerate the team,” he added. “We have produced remarkable games against Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool in this competition and we want to continue on that run.
“What is important is that we just go out on the day and be faithful to the performances we have put in this FA Cup until now. We have gone through very difficult opponents, so this is one more to add to that list.”
There will be no semi-final replay. If the scores are level after 90 minutes, extra time will be played. If the scores remain level, a penalty shoot-out will take place
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11 Apr 2014