LONDON: Arsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal stars to heed the lessons of last season’s narrow escape at Wembley when the holders face Reading in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday.
Wenger’s side heads back to Wembley as firm favourites to see off the Championship strugglers and advance to a second successive FA Cup final.
Arsenal have risen to second in the Premier League after reeling off eight consecutive victories, a powerful run that has stretched to 11 wins from 12 games in all competitions.
In contrast, Reading, languishing 18th in the second tier table, are not mathematically certain of avoiding relegation to League One following a miserable run of one win in their last 10 matches.
The Royals have failed to win any of their five matches since beating Bradford in an FA Cup quarter-final replay.
But Wenger has been scarred by several of Arsenal’s recent encounters with lower league teams and is determined to ensure the Gunners do not underestimate Steve Clarke’s men.
To drive home the point he recalled last season’s FA Cup semi-final against second tier Wigan, in which Arsenal fell behind and only equalised in the 82nd minute before eventually securing a barely-deserved victory in a penalty shoot-out.
“We know that it [semi-final] is always tricky. We have learnt from Wigan last year,” said Wenger. “The urgency level will be quite high in our team.
“Reading have a very efficient style, and go a lot for crosses, so for us they can be a danger going forward.”
While Arsenal’s internationals can afford to take a semi-final in their stride, it may be slightly harder for Reading’s journeymen to avoid being star-struck on the big stage.
It has been 88 years since the Royals last reached the semi-finals and they have never appeared in the final.
But former West Bromwich Albion boss Steve Clarke, who won the Cup as a Chelsea player, said, “You can’t go to Wembley and play the occasion.
“The supporters can go and enjoy the day, that’s their little reward for a cup run.
“For us, it is to go there with a mentality that we are there to do a job and if we do that right we can go through.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2015.
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