Exclusive Wenger quotes, classic goals, team news and a poll. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of our Emirates FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
A SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY
He may be readying his side for their third Emirates FA Cup semi-final in the past four seasons - and the 11th of his Arsenal reign - but Arsène Wenger retains a tangible relish for the Wembley experience.
Some may feel blasé about the merits of this competition, but the manager is certainly not one of them.
He is potentially 180 minutes away from lifting the trophy for a record seventh time, a result that would partially salvage a season that has, in truth, unravelled somewhat.
“Going to Wembley is always a special experience,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “When our supporters go to Wembley, I think it’s a special occasion in their life. You want them to come out there and be pleased by having a positive experience.
“On our side, we want to win the game. It’s important that you go into big games and feel you can win them. That’s something that’s vital in the players’ heads, for their careers, for their confidence and for their self-esteem. It’s something special.”
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
This is a markedly different scenario to our last two semi-finals, when we faced Championship opponents in Wigan Athletic in 2014, and then Reading 12 months later.
On both occasions we were heavy favourites to progress, a fact that seemed to weigh heavy on the team as they were twice forced to extra time (and penalties against Wigan).
This time around, Wenger admits we will be the ones seen as underdogs by most fans – and that is likely to have an impact on the approach of both teams.
“It is a match between two Premier League teams who are very close to each other in the table, so that means it’s very open and certainly you will be a bit more on your toes mentally,” he said.
“You need to be absolutely at your best. Sometimes the pressure from being super-favourite comes from the fact that you’re a bit scared of taking the initiative.
“You play a little bit with the handbrake on, but in this situation we know that City are a very offensive team so we will need to defend well as a unit. We need to take every single chance to go forward and put them under pressure.
“It’s very difficult to predict [how the match will pan out] because it depends certainly on when the first goal will be scored. That always decides the attitude of the two teams. It should be a very intense game, we want to prepare well and absolutely give everything on Sunday.”
THREE AT THE BACK AGAIN?
Ever since Monday’s surprise tactical tweak at Middlesbrough, Wenger has been fielding questions about his decision to play three at the back for the first time since 1997.
It seemed to work in the short-term, helping to stem the tide of goals we have been conceding on the road and playing its part in giving us a much-needed victory after a rocky run.
|Arsenal: Mustafi (thigh), Welbeck (toe – doubt), Cazorla (ankle), Ospina (back), Lucas (thigh), Reine-Adelaide (ankle)
Man City: Stones (knock – doubt), Sagna (groin – doubt), Jesus (foot), Gundogan (knee)
Wenger was satisfied with the way it operated, but could it be a long-term solution? And could the manager adopt it again this weekend to help cope with City’s galaxy of attacking stars?
“We were in a little bit of a difficult situation because we couldn’t win away from home,” said Wenger. “On top of that, we have conceded many goals away from home recently. In these kinds of situations, firstly you always need to stabilise defensively and that’s what we did.
“[Playing three at the back] was to stabilise us a bit more defensively, especially against teams who play a more direct game. I played with three at the back 20 years ago when I arrived. I decided to go for four after that because I think it’s a bit more offensively ambitious.
“When your team goes through a period where it’s a bit more insecure, you have to look for reassurance first. Recently we’ve conceded goals so we had to tighten up at the back.
“I haven’t made a decision just yet [on whether to play it in the semi-final]. Rob Holding came in and did well, and overall we did alright. We controlled the situation well in an open game.”
Despite the attacking riches on display on Sunday, the stats suggest that we should expect another tight, tense clash.
Of our past 12 FA Cup semi-finals, only one has been settled by more than one goal – and Wenger remembers just how tightly-fought his first one was, a 1-0 victory against Wolves back in 1998.
“It was a very tight game, much tighter than you would expect,” the manager said. “It was my first experience and I remember going to Villa Park and seeing all our fans.
“What changed from a usual Premier League game is that suddenly the number of people coming out there for an away game is absolutely massive, because half of the stadium is for you.
“I still remember every minute of us approaching the stadium. It’s one of the first times that I really realised the importance and spectacular support of our club. It was very motivating to see how much it means for the club and how good the club is, how big the support of the club is.
“Of course, on top of that, I remember the goal that Christopher Wreh scored that got us to the final. That season he scored some really important goals. I think he scored as well against Wimbledon in a game we had in hand. We are still all grateful for what he did.
“He was a quiet boy and nobody knew him when he came here. He gave us something in very big occasions because he had a high level of confidence.”
“When I talk about [the match against Wolves], every single detail comes back and that shows you how much it means.”
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