London: Defender Per Mertesacker believes Arsenal have become a stronger unit from their FA Cup success of last season, but cannot allow themselves any sense of complacency against Reading at Wembley in today’s FA Cup semi-final.
Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker. Pic/Getty Images
The atmosphere around the club is certainly a world way from the tense finale to the 2013/2014 campaign, when Arsenal were under extreme pressure in the quest to finally end a long wait for silverware. Those ambitions were within eight minutes of being shattered when trailing 0-1 to Wigan in their semi-final 12 months ago, before Mertesacker headed home a late equaliser to force extra-time and a penalty shoot-out victory that in turn set up a final against Hull, which itself proved just as dramatic as Arsenal came from 2-0 down to lift the trophy.
“It is a good warning to all of us. You need to be focused 100% against Reading, so it is going to be a tough one for us,” said the German, who will again lead the team out at Wembley with captain Mikel Arteta still not fit.
“We suffered a bit last season on that occasion with that pressure, but it was a great experience and hopefully we can manage that a bit better.
“We are on a good level of confidence, but there will be pressure on us because we are favourites. Can we handle that during the game?”
Mertesacker added: “It is going to be Reading’s biggest game of the season, so to mentally prepare for that is going to be difficult, not just to match their physicality and mental strength, but to do more, to be on the ball from the start, to show them respect, but no fear for the pressure.”
The bedrock of Arsenal’s resurgence has been the return to fitness of key men, which has left Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Kieran Gibbs all looking on from the bench.
Jack Wilshere could be another in contention this weekend, having recovered from minor ankle surgery.