Per Mertesacker says Arsenal are confident heading into Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Reading, however, the BFG insists last year’s close call against Wigan serves as a warning that his teammates can’t take anything for granted.
Twelve months ago a nervy penalty shootout against Uwe Rosler’s side was followed by a swashbuckling fightback in the final against Hull – results that had Gooners across the globe chewing their fingernails to a bloody mush.
Aware that Wembley brings a unique kind of pressure, Mertesacker told Arsenal.com of his desire for the team to continue their rich vein of form.
“We felt [pressure] last season a lot. No one expected us to lose, for Wigan to go through and that will be the case again.
“We are more prepared but you are never perfectly prepared. There will be different situations and the team will have to grow in the match again, we will have to face the expectations and pressure.
“But with our level of confidence and with the team in good shape at the moment, I’m very confident. The energy is really great in the team, we have a fantastic squad and the most important thing is that feeling.”
Elsewhere ‘Invincible’ Martin Keown says a victory in the FA Cup and a second place finish will represent progress for Arsenal and sets the foundations for a title challenge next season.
Speaking to Sky Sports, the former centre-back noted: “It has to represent progress if you’re finishing two positions higher and still in the FA Cup.
“Chelsea will win it [the Premier League] but if you ask them next season, they won’t fear anyone but they will be aware of Arsenal. They will want to challenge next season and they will want to start well next year.
“They need to strengthen in one or two positions but I’m not talking about wholesale changes which some others may have to make if they want to compete.
“They look more convincing as a team than they did last year. The players look together.
“The squad is better equipped now, Gabriel is putting (Per) Mertesacker under huge pressure and (Francis) Coquelin is in midfield instead of (Mikel) Arteta and (Mathieu) Flamini who are maybe coming to the end of their careers.
“They have a whole array of players who can play off the front and (Olivier) Giroud and (Danny) Welbeck are vying for the centre forward position. The competition for places creates intensity.”
Incidentally, Keown’s Arsenal fanaticism could be put to the test this weekend with rumours his son, Niall, could feature for Reading at Wembley. On Monday the 20-year-old defender scored the winner for the Royals’ under-21s as they beat Steve Gatting’s side 1-0 at the Emirates.