Arsene Wenger is chasing a piece of FA Cup history – but claims he is not under the same pressure as three years ago.
Wenger, who has won the trophy a record-equalling six times, was in a similar position in 2014 when Arsenal faced Wigan in the semi-final.
His contract was running to an end, Arsenal were in a nine-year trophy drought and Wenger knew it was win-or-bust with the fans on a knife edge.
It went all the way to penalties, Arsenal went on to beat Hull in the final, Wenger was given a new three-year deal… and here we are all over again.
But this time Arsenal are the underdogs, Manchester City are favourites and, as much as some unhappy fans might not agree, Wenger clearly does not feel as if his future depends on the outcome.
Wenger is expected to sign a new two year deal irrespective of whether they win the FA Cup or finish in the top four and this time the Arsenal manager sees the semi final very differently.
“In 2014 it was a special pressure, this time, is a special opportunity for us,” said Wenger who has won the trophy twice in the last three seasons.
“It was a special pressure because it was difficult for us. We had not won a trophy for a long time. And that people wanted to us to win a trophy or questioned us about winning a trophy.
“We had the opportunity in the semi final to go to the final and win the cup. Overall yes the pressure was big.”
The FA Cup has actually been Wenger’s salvation before, lifting the trophy in 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2014 and 2015.
Back in 2003, Arsenal’s post-Wembley party at a glitzy London hotel turned into an inquest because the FA Cup was seen as just a consolation prize. They were expected to win the title in those days and blew it during the run-in.
How expectations have changed. Now Arsenal are the outsiders going into semi final weekend. Wenger winning the FA Cup would put him above Aston Villa’s George Ramsay who won the cup six times between 1897 and 1920.
Wenger is on course to be in charge of Arsenal for just as long and fell in love with the FA Cup from watching it at home as a child on a black and white TV and therefore knows all the history.
He also knows that the nightmare scenario for Arsenal would be a North London derby in the FA Cup final which is something he will not allow himself to think about.
“We will know that on Sunday when we start the game,” said Wenger. “But I’ve not thought about it at all. If we were playing, for example, a Championship team, I would honestly say yes.
“Because we play City, I don’t think about it like that. It would be absolutely stupid to speculate on the final.
“Let’s first deal with City on Sunday and see what happens there. It’s really a 50-50 game. If you ask the neutrals, maybe they will say City are favourites even.
“I always thought the cup is something special. In fact I have won the cup in every country I have worked. So it is always something that is special.
“I’m very proud of the record because you have had many strong managers in England for many periods. The guy who won it six times was not today, it was early 1900s.
“It’s not easy. I will try to (beat the record) but for that we will have to go through on Sunday. The championship is more of a marathon and this is more condensed and is quicker rewarded.”