Arsenal are well aware that your position in the League definitely does not affect your performance in an FA Cup game, especially one as important as a semi-final. Arsene Wenger can not forget how hard it was to get past Wigan last year, and Wenger is expecting another tough task against lowly Reading.
“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 on the official Arsenal website.
“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,”
“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.”
So Wenger knows that Arsenal will not find it easy, but what does the Reading boss Steve Clarke think? He is even MORE aware that Arsenal will be hot favourites to win, but he is making sure that his players know how important it is to not make any unforced errors. Clarke said: “We have to play almost the perfect game. We have to be solid, resolute and mentally strong.
“What does perfection mean? It means no mistakes. If you make mistakes in possession and give the ball away to Arsenal they will punish you. You make silly mistakes in and around your penalty area, they have got players that will capitalise.
“How many times have teams of mine played a perfect game? Probably none. So it’s a big ask, but you have to ask it.
“Maybe in the Championship you can make two or 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. That is what we have to be aware of.
“I’d love to have 60 per cent possession at Wembley but you have to be realistic. Arsenal are going to have more of the ball than us, so we have to have a good defensive shape.
“We have to press at the right time and win the ball back, and when we do we have to show we can be a threat, because if we don’t then for them it is a free afternoon. They can attack and attack and attack.”
A lot of lower league managers, when faced with one of the Big Guns at Wembley, just tell their players to ‘go out and enjoy themselves’
“The only way to enjoy a semi-final is to win it,” said Clarke. “We’re not playing the occasion, we’re playing Arsenal. It has to be a day of work and focus on what happens on the pitch.
“The supporters can go and enjoy the day. For us, we go with the mentality that we are there to do a job.
“It’s a chance for the players to make history. Reading have never played in an FA Cup final. What an incentive that is for them.
“They won’t freeze and they won’t have any regrets, I can promise everyone that.”
“I’m not sure that Arsenal will feel that much pressure. I’ve been at top clubs and when you go into this type of game, you go in expecting to win. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
“As for us, there’s only the pressure that we put ourselves under, to make sure that the preparation and mentality are right and we give everything we’ve got.”
So Clarke knows that Arsenal are far superior on paper, but with a game like this you always know you still have to go out on the pitch and do the business. And don’t forget that if we win this we still have to beat Aston Villa in the Final 🙂
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