Arsenal at Wembley is a sight I would not mind getting very, very used to.
Having said that, I do hope it isn’t always as stressful as this time a year ago.
Arsène Wenger’s men went into that game having won just one of the previous six games in all competitions. The North London Derby success in March was followed by four winless games; those four games had seen The Gunners concede 12 goals.
On the day we struggled, and it looked like it may even be a sad end to Wenger’s reign. Thankfully, Per Mertesacker intervened in the 81st minute to equalise. We were never a huge threat to their defensive setup, and relied on penalties to make the final.
Aaron Ramsey played 112 minutes having only played 20 in the four months before the game. Jack Wilshere and Mesut Özil were out, Yaya Sanogo and Lukas Podolski started with the task of breaking Wigan down.
The bench contained Thomas Eisfeld, Chuba Akpom, and loan signing Kim Källström – who even came on and scored in the penalty shootout.
Eight consecutive league wins carry Arsenal into the semi-final of the world’s most famous cup competition this time around. In all competitions we’ve won a mammoth 17 of our last 19 games.
The squad is almost fully fit, and the club is confident.
“We know each other better now and have a better balance in our team between attacking and defending,” said Arsène Wenger during his press conference on Thursday.
“We have stronger starts now than we did last season. We have learned from back then.”
As mentioned above, Wenger has an almost fully fit squad – plenty of options are open to the manager.
Only Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain unavailable; Mathieu Debuchy, Abou Diaby, Serge Gnabry, and Jack Wilshere are all options for Wenger this weekend.
“All the players have top top quality, which makes it very difficult for me to pick my best team.
“They all deserve to play.”
But they can’t. One man who will play is Wojciech Szczęsny, after the manager confirmed the Pole will return in goal. Szczęsny didn’t play in either game at Wembley last season, and will be eager to impress in his bid to regain the number one jersey from David Ospina.
Other than that it would be a surprise for Wenger to make many changes to such an in form side for such a huge fixture. A couple of like-for-like changes could be made, with Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott, and Danny Welbeck all surely extremely eager to play at the same stadium where they represent their country.
Welbeck scored the winner in the last round at Old Trafford and has a fantastic record for England. The striker has even netted in all three of his Wembley appearances since signing for Arsenal last summer, with four goals in the matches against San Marino, Slovenia, and Lithuania.
Possible XI: Szczęsny; Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin; Ramsey, Cazorla, Özil, Alexis; Welbeck.
Not to be sneered at, Reading have beaten fellow Championship sides Huddersfield, Cardiff, and high-flying Derby to get this far. The quarter-final tie against serial giant killers Bradford required a replay, which the Royals comfortably won 3-0.
The season has been a frustrating one for the once Premier League club. No real consistency has cost them a shot at the play-offs: they haven’t put together a run of more than three consecutive wins all season, and only managed that once.
Just as Arsenal head into this semi-final the polar opposite of last season, this Reading side is nothing like the Wigan team that The Gunners faced 12 months ago.
The Championship table has Reading at 18th, despite their obvious quality.
On Thursday Wenger remarked that the club “have many players who have Premier League experience,” while manager Steve Clarke “has good experience so he knows exactly what will happen.
“We won’t underestimate Championship opposition. It wouldn’t be intelligent to turn up thinking we’ve won.”
Only six sides have scored fewer than Reading’s 44 Championship goals this season, and their tally of 64 goals conceded isn’t particularly impressive either.
Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah and Russian forward Pavel Pogrebnyak face late fitness tests.
Possible XI: Federici; Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita; McCleary, Norwood, Williams, Robson-Kanu; Cox, Pogrebnyak.
No club has won 12 FA Cups. Arsenal could this year.
No manager since George Ramsey in 1913 – the year we moved to Highbury – has won the FA Cup six times. Arsène could this year.
Since 1900 only five teams and four managers have retained the FA Cup. This year, Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal could do it for the second time.
A win on Saturday would set us up for a historic clash at the end of May.
The squad is almost entirely available. We are in superb form. This Saturday, there are no excuses.