Arsène Wenger says Arsenal have learned from their struggles to beat Wigan Athletic last year when they take on Championship opposition once again in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley Stadium on Saturday. Just like this weekend's meeting against Reading, Arsenal were heavily favored to beat Wigan in last season’s last-four showdown, but required a late equalizer from Per Mertesacker and then a penalty shootout to prevail before requiring similar drama to get past Hull City in the final.
But Wenger believes that experience and the familiarity he and his team now have with the latter stages of the FA Cup will stand them in good stead.
“I’m playing my 10th semifinal on Saturday so that means we know how to prepare,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “We know as well that it is always tricky. Last year we went to penalties against Wigan and we have learnt from that. The urgency level will be high in our team.”
“Once you are in the semifinal at Wembley it would be absolutely unintelligent to think you can just turn up and win the game. We have prepared well since the start of the season for this game and we know exactly what will face us. I think the team will have the needed focus.”
Arsenal could hardly be coming into the match in better form, having won their last eight matches to rise to second in the Premier League table. They will be further boosted by the return to availability of long-term absentees Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Debuchy. Now with a large squad to choose from, Wenger could decide to rotate his lineup, perhaps with next Sunday’s meeting with Premier League leaders Chelsea in mind. One alteration he has confirmed he will make is bringing in goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to replace current No. 1 David Ospina.
Reading manager Steve Clarke has also got some good news on the injury front, with Russia international striker Pavel Pogrebnyak set to return to fitness after missing the 1-0 home defeat to Bournemouth on Tuesday. But they will be missing cup-tied pair Nathan Ake and Kwesi Appiah. And, in contrast to their opponents, Reading come into the semifinal on a run of five matches without a win, which has seen them slip to 18th in the Championship standings. Reading have yet to face a Premier League side en route to their first FA Cup semifinal since 1927, and Clarke insists his team needs a near-faultless performance in order to topple the high-flying Gunners.
“If you make mistakes in possession and give the ball away to Arsenal, they will punish you,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “If you make silly mistakes in and around your own box, they have got players that will capitalize on those chances. Maybe in the Championship you can make two to three mistakes in a game and the opposition are not quite good enough to take those chances. But you know if you make them against a top team they will take them and that is what we have to be aware of.”
D: Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Coquelin, Cazorla
Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez
D: Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita
M: McCleary, Chalobah, Norwood, Robson-Kanu
F: Mackie, Pogrebnyak
Kickoff time: 12:20 p.m. ET
TV channel: Fox