Date: 24th April 2017 at 7:45am
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Manager Arsene Wenger has reflected on Arsenal’s passage through to the FA Cup final with victory over Manchester City this weekend and admitted the semi final was a ‘big mental test’ for the side.

Making the trip to Wembley for the game, Arsenal did fall behind in the second half to a goal from Sergio Aguero, but Nacho Monreal had us back on level terms less than ten minutes later and with extra time upon us, Alexis Sanchez proved his worth once again by hitting the winner in the 101st minute to make it three FA Cup finals in the last four years.

Speaking to the Official Site in his post game press conference, Wenger knew it had been a mental test on the day but he also knew the players had put in one of the best showings of the season so far across the game.

‘I felt that we had a strong response today. We had a little bit of a cautious start, hesitant sometimes but we didn`t give chances away and we grew into the game. Slowly, we became better and better and in the second half I felt we were very strong, in extra-time very strong, we always looked solid and dangerous. We played more in the second half and I felt as well it was a big test for us today – it was a mental test because many people questioned ‘Can we turn up in an occasion like that?’ That`s why I am very proud for the players, because they showed they are united and determined.’

With comments from the players saying they wanted to win the competition for him this season, Wenger wasn’t too fussed with that.

‘No, I want them to enjoy it, to play together and to play for the club. That is for me the most important. To reach the targets that we set for them together. Football is a team sport and as a manager your biggest joy is when you feel you have a real team performance. That was the case today and that`s why I am happy today.’

With a more typical Arsenal performance on the day given the struggles that this season has become, Wenger was asked on whether the showing had boosted his belief of better things for 2017/18.

‘You know, I feel the club is in a very strong shape and that we have a very strong overall situation and a very strong team. We have shown that today. After that is for me the most important. One day I will leave anyway, so the most important is that I`m sure that Arsenal will always be a great club that everybody admires.’

Asked about a ‘vindication’ following recent weeks, he added.

‘Honestly, I feel when you see today and you watch the stands, you see how big this club is. I feel just happy when our fans go home tonight and they are happy. When I don`t win the games I feel sad because I don`t feel that I give what people want. We have gone through a very difficult period and we faced some adversity that made the situation more difficult from inside as well. But we`ve shown a united response, not a divided response, but of course, mentally we were in a fragile position.’

The questions of course didn’t stop there, and with a return to a flat back three over the last two games – the first time since 1997 – Wenger was asked about that decision that saw Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel and Rob Holding line up once more against City and also whether we should’ve gone to a back three sooner this season.

‘Well, yes. I like your question, because it shows exactly what our job is. No matter what you do, even if you get it right at some stage, people say ‘Why didn`t you do it earlier?’ It`s like the opposite is right, is wrong as well. If you get your starting line up wrong, you change it at half-time, people say ‘You see, he is a tactical magician!’ because he changed the team at half-time. But they forget that we got it wrong at the start. So you can always judge on both ways. I think what I did is just to give a bit more security to a team who conceded three goals in the last three away games, at West Brom, at Liverpool, at Crystal Palace and at some stage even to focus on something different for the players recreates some confidence.’

With Rob Holding making his Wembley debut, Wenger was asked whether going to three at the back was of the bravest decisions he’d made at his time at the club.

‘I don`t know. I`d have to look back. During the season I made some tough decisions this season. We have gone through a difficult period. I don`t know, but it`s my job to try to get it right. When it goes well, we are happy.’

With the change taking place for Middlesbrough, he went on to say.

‘First of all that we won the game, that the team got a bit of confidence back. After when you analyse the game again, you look where did we suffer, where were we good, how do Man City play, where do they play through and can we cope with that? I think, to me, it was positive enough to try it today.’

There were also words of praise for Gabriel.

‘Well, Gabriel has played some positive games as a right-back. I felt that he has good pace, and today I felt that he could intervene for Oxlade-Chamberlain on Sane going through. Sane goes through a lot in behind and I felt that he had the pace to cover, to tackle and he did that very well. Especially in the second half when I think he saved three of four balls. So I just thought he was well-suited for this position. He played right-back, he played centre back and he plays at the moment in a position that is between the two.’

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