By Chris Harris
"You do not play 10 semi-finals if you do not prepare properly for these games. I’m proud of that consistency." - Arsene Wenger
What's your favourite FA Cup semi-final memory?
Older fans will remember the drama against Stoke City in 1971 and the epic against Liverpool in 1980 - which needed four matches to separate the sides. The next generation might recall Arsenal's redemption against Tottenham in 1993.
Arsene Wenger's own choice is another north London derby and a 2-1 win at Old Trafford in 2001, notable for Sol Campbell's final Spurs appearance before he crossed the divide. "That was a special derby; we won it in a convincing way," said Wenger.
The thing is, Arsenal's manager has plenty of options. On Saturday he will contest his 10th FA Cup semi-final - not too shabby for a man who was once accused of not respecting the competition. Wenger responded with a wry smile when that was put to him ahead of this weekend's visit to Wembley.
"Yes, I have many times been suspected of that but my record tells how seriously we play every game," he said. "You do not play 10 semi-finals if you do not prepare properly for these games. I’m proud of that consistency. It’s still the same excitement in a game like that as it was in the first one."
The key word there is "seriously". Some Arsenal fans, dizzy with the excitement of an eight-match winning run, may dismiss Reading as a creditable threat to their team's FA Cup ambitions. Wenger, and his players, will not.
"We are happy because our job is to win games, but worried as well to keep it going and focus on every detail that could interrupt the run," said Wenger. "You want to take care of absolutely everything to keep the team on the right level of concentration, of desire, of hunger, of urgency and confidence."
Wenger finds himself in unfamiliar territory this week.
The Arsenal boss has never been in a better position to rotate his squad - with only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) and Mikel Arteta (match fitness) unavailable. And yet, with no midweek fixtures and an eight-match winning run, Wenger has rarely had less reason to tinker.
"It's important not to interrupt the balance of the team. That is always very fragile and sensitive."
"It is always sensitive decisions," said the manager. "I can change one or two or three players to keep everybody involved, but as well it's important not to interrupt the balance of the team. That is always very fragile and sensitive. It is not easy.
"We have a big squad available for selection. We just have Arteta and Oxlade-Chamberlain out but everybody else should be alright. Jack Wilshere has improved physically and should be available."
There will definitely be a change in goal. Wojciech Szczesny, kept out of the side by the form of David Ospina, resumes his role as Arsenal's current 'cup keeper'.
"It is based on merit," said Wenger. "Wojciech had a good game against Manchester United [in the last round of the FA Cup] and there is no special reason to drop him for Saturday.
"His attitude has been very good. He has trained well, [he is] very focused. Our defenders have played many games with Szczesny and I believe it’s important that the two goalkeepers get competition."
According to the form book, Szczesny won't have too much to handle on his return to the Arsenal team.
Reading have won just twice in 12 games, sit uncomfortably close to the Championship relegation zone and are stepping up in class having seen off Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City, Derby County and Bradford City to reach their first FA Cup semi-final for 88 years.
The pressure of a Wembley occasion could get the better of Reading. On the other hand, it could inspire them.
"They have nothing to lose and it is a special occasion for them"
"If you put yourself in the mind of Reading, at the start of the season can you believe that you will be in the semi-final of the FA Cup when you have teams like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham - all the big teams?" Wenger said.
"They are in the middle of the Championship and suddenly they are in the semi-final of the FA Cup. It’s unexpected. They have nothing to lose and it is a special occasion for them as it is for us. They will raise their level for sure and that’s what you expect as well.
"They are a team with quality, with many players who have played in the Premier League already," added Wenger.
"They have Pavel Pogrebnyak up front who has a big experience, including international experience. They have Jamie Mackie, they have Hal Robson-Kanu, they have Garath McCleary - plenty of players who can create danger."
Remember Wigan. Arsenal must heed that simple instruction on Saturday or risk falling victim to a seismic FA Cup shock.
This time last year, the Gunners were getting desperate when Per Mertesacker stooped to head them level against the Latics. Even then, Wigan clung on for a nerve-jangling penalty shoot-out that brought the best out of Lukasz Fabianski.
You can argue that Reading aren't quite in Wigan's class - they have less Wembley experience for a start - but they are good enough to punish any sign of complacency from Arsenal.
"Wembley is a special occasion that we can share with our fans so everybody is focused and can’t wait to get it started"
Wenger's will hammer home that message before kick-off on Saturday. His last FA Cup defeat came against lower-league opposition - Blackburn Rovers - in February 2013 and he won't allow his players' standards to slip.
"We have continuity in our minds," he said. "When you have created a run like we have, you want to continue. On top of that, Wembley is a special occasion that we can share with our fans so everybody is focused and can’t wait to get it started.
"Last year's experience will help us because we played a Championship side in the semi-final. On the urgency level, on the concentration level and even on the confidence level, the fact that we have come through that last year at Wembley will help.
"Semi-finals are always a mixture of wanting the right result and enjoying it as well, because you think it’s a special occasion for all the people who love the club to get there and share something together with your fans.
"It is always a very special experience and of course we want them to go home happy."
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