ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger has called on his players to learn the lessons of last season’s Wembley ordeals when they face Reading in tomorrow’s FA Cup semi-final.
The Gunners ultimately ended a nine-year silverware drought by lifting the trophy, but only after being forced to come from behind to beat both second-tier Wigan, on penalties, in the last four, and then unfancied Hull, after extra-time, in the final.
“Last year we went to penalties against Wigan and we have learnt from that. The urgency level will be high in our team,” said Wenger, who will equal George Ramsay’s record if he lifts the trophy for a sixth time.
“The fact that we won last year is a good memory and can stimulate your brain, your desire, and we want to take the positives from it. We also remember that we suffered a lot before we got there so we have to prepare ourselves to battle first.
“Once you are in the semi-final at Wembley it would be absolutely not intelligent to think you can just turn up and win the game. We have prepared well since the start of the season and we know exactly what will face us. I think the team will have the needed focus.”
Wenger plans to stick with Wojciech Szczesny as his FA Cup goalkeeper, despite David Ospina replacing the Pole as Arsenal’s regular No1, but indicated he would otherwise select a full-strength team.
“I believe it’s important that the two goalkeepers get competition and he will get competition in the FA Cup now, as long as Ospina plays in the Premier League,” Wenger added.
As with last season’s Wembley dates, Arsenal will arrive as overwhelming favourites to extend their eight-match winning sequence and eliminate Reading, who lie 18th in the Championship.
Steve Clarke’s Royals could theoretically still be relegated and have won just one game in their last six – the quarter-final replay against Bradford – yet Wenger is wary of their aerial approach, which is similar to that which helped Hull take a two-goal lead in last year’s final.
“They have a very efficient style, and go a lot for crosses. They can be a danger going forward,” he added.
“They have many players who have the experience in the Premier League. They have a good offensive potential, with [Pavel] Pogrebnyak, [Jamie] Mackie, [Hal] Robson-Kanu, [Garath] McCleary and they are all dangerous players.
“Steve Clarke has good experience so he knows exactly what to do. He has spent a long time at the top and he knows exactly what will happen. I’m sure he will prepare his team very well.”
MOST FA CUP WINS
■ 6: George Ramsay (Aston Villa, 1887, 1895, 1897, 1905, 1913, 1920)
■ 5: Thomas Mitchell (Blackburn, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1890, 1891);
■ 5: Sir Alex Ferguson (Man Utd, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004)
■ 5: Arsene Wenger (Arsenal, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2014)