Mikel Arteta believes the FA Cup has never been harder to win as Arsenal face up to the tall order of a semi-final showdown with Manchester City.
The last time the two sides met at this stage of the competition, Arsene Wenger’s Gunners ensured Pep Guardiola’s first season in Manchester ended without a trophy, as Alexis Sanchez secured a 2-1 extra-time victory.
However, City have won all seven meetings since, including the 2018 EFL Cup final – a triumph that began a run of Guardiola lifting six out of the past eight major honours on offer in English football.
If he is to make it seven from nine, he will need to overcome Arsenal and the winners of Sunday’s semi-final between Manchester United and Chelsea.
Arteta won back-to-back FA Cups as a player under Wenger in 2014 and 2015, although the Arsenal head coach feels the strength of this year’s semi-final contenders shows it will be a tougher task for whoever prevails this time around.
“I think it is, a lot of clubs used to use this competition to give opportunities to young players or change their squads,” Guardiola’s former assistant said.
“Look at the semi-finals, look how much players are rotating, look how much everyone wants to win a title.
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“The big clubs know how difficult it is to win the Premier League and the Champions League. They need titles and they throw everything at this competition.
“Now it is even more difficult to win it than before.”
Arsenal battled to a 2-1 comeback win over champions Liverpool in midweek to make it four Premier League wins from their past six encounters.
They were forced to dig in under pressure for long periods, but Arteta balked at the suggestion he might have implemented a more free-flowing style at this stage, given the myriad of challenges he has faced in his short time in charge.
“You’re asking me if I wanted to play, after two months, with a break, like Man City right now?” he asked, with slight incredulity.
“Look back at the issues we’ve had with a lot of players, with injuries, suspensions, players out.
“It’s impossible. I need to adapt, I need to win football games and find ways to do that.
“My long-term situation, how we want to play, is very clear.”
The pressure to churn out results since arriving last December might yet stand Arteta in good stead for Saturday’s winner-takes-all encounter.
“Every game since I joined was a final, it was crucial,” he added.
“We have to climb on the table to have the option that we have now to get into Europe through the Premier League, and now through the FA Cup.”