“We needed nerve, we needed mental strength and we had them. That's the most pleasing thing for me.
“We know that in terms of pure football quality we can do better. But there is a big pressure on the shoulders when you're in the semi-final. You always think 'we cannot lose now, we desperately have to win.'
“So it's just a huge weight off to get into the final. Now we can focus on the Premier League.”
Arsenal have won the chance to the end the season on a high. Between now and then however, they will determine the success of the current campaign.
|Arsenal: Oxlade-Chamberlain (doubt - groin), Koscielny (doubt – calf), Rosicky (doubt - thigh), Gnabry (knee), Monreal (dead leg), Wilshere (foot), Diaby (knee), Ozil (hamstring), Walcott (knee)
West Ham United: Nolan (doubt – hamstring), McCartney (hamstring), O’Brien (doubt – shoulder), Collins (doubt – calf), Borriello (calf)
Winning the FA Cup would be wonderful. Yet that silver lining will be clouded should Arsène Wenger’s men fail to achieve Champions League football.
Just before Arsenal emerged from the tunnel at Wembley, Everton chiselled out a 1-0 win at Sunderland to leapfrog them into fourth. It was their game in hand on the Gunners and their advantage is now significant - two points and +6 in terms of goal difference.
Arsenal fans are used to last-day dramas in this area. With five games to go and Everton generally perceived to have the tougher run-in, it may well go that far again this season.
“We've got a fight in the Premier League but we are ready for it,” said Wenger. “I believe that the most important thing is the team is focused and concentrated on the target. So let's start well against West Ham.
"Nobody knows how many [points] you need. What you want is to win the next game.”
West Ham arrive at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night relatively safe from relegation thanks largely to four straight wins in February. It has been more patchy since - P6 W2 D0 L4 - however they are seven points above the drop zone with a game in hand. Victory at Emirates Stadium would take them to the important threshold of 40 points.
“They have done unbelievably well,” said Wenger. “For a while it looked very difficult but they have bounced back in a remarkable way. They have had a fantastic run and they have done a great job to turn it around.
“I believe they can play with freedom now. But what you want is to not to expect any kind of weakness from these kind of teams, just to focus on your quality and bounce back yourselves with a consistent run.”
"Nobody knows how many [points] you need. What you want is to win the next game"
It would be fair to say that the return of striker Andy Carroll sparked West Ham’s revival – in that he made significant contributions in big wins over Cardiff and Swansea after the turn of the year – but it is not the sole cause. His dismissal in the latter game, after setting up both goals for Kevin Nolan, meant he missed the rest of February. The midfielder is West Ham’s top scorer with seven goals this season, but the giant Geordie striker remains Arsenal’s biggest threat. Here’s Wenger’ plan.
“The best way to [cope with Carroll] is to stop the source because you know once the ball is in the air you have a real problem to win it against him,” said the manager. “It is for us to have the ball first and, when we do not have the ball, to stop the source to him.”
Arsenal should be buoyant in the stands and the dressing room after Saturday’s success. But it was a fight that went the distance and Wenger knows the inevitable bumps, bruises and tiredness gives them an air of vulnerability.
“Fatigue is an issue, yes, but it’s difficult to predict how you will be three days later,” said Wenger. “The mental part is so important in the physical recovery. It’s more difficult for the players who have had no competition and are forced into an extension of their real potential.”
Arsenal’s Premier League season is now a microcosm of that semi-final. Scrapping to play catch-up in the last 10 minutes.
Saturday did not see a perfect performance by any means. But the character and determination the team showed simply has to be applauded.
And now they must do it five more times - starting with West Ham on Tuesday.
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