London (AFP) – Pep Guardiola has challenged Manchester City to extend his impressive record at Wembley when the FA Cup holders face Arsenal in Saturday’s semi-final.
City have won the League Cup three years in a row and are bidding to retain the FA Cup after thrashing Watford in last season’s final.
With City also having enjoyed two Community Shield victories and an FA Cup semi-final success against Brighton at Wembley since Guardiola took charge in 2016, the national stadium is clearly a happy hunting ground for the Spaniard.
Not only that, Guardiola also won the European Cup at the old Wembley during his playing days with Barcelona in 1992, returning to lift the Champions League in the rebuilt stadium as Barca manager in 2011.
The City boss admitted his players generally thrive on the big stage, but he pointed to their 2017 FA Cup semi-final defeat against Arsenal as proof that nothing should be taken for granted this weekend.
“It shows the team likes and enjoys playing the finals. Wembley is an incredible place to play,” Guardiola told reporters on Friday.
“But no semi-final was easy in my career, never ever. They are always tight and we lost semi-finals in my first year here.”
The FA Cup has taken on extra importance for City this year after they were forced to surrender the Premier League title to Liverpool.
Guardiola said securing a place in next season’s Champions League was their biggest priority, with second placed City’s successful appeal against their two-season European ban ensuring that target has been met.
Now the FA Cup has Guardiola’s full attention as City look to emulate their 3-0 win over Arsenal in their first game after the coronavirus hiatus.
– ‘Beautiful cup’ –
“Qualification for the Champions League, for the future of the club, is more important than domestic cups,” Guardiola said.
“So if I finish fourth, in the Champions League, next season, in terms of the prestige, that’s so, so important.
“The FA Cup is more historical and a beautiful cup and we are one step closer to getting to another final and we’re going to try to do a good game.
“When you play in the FA Cup semi-final it becomes so important, especially when you have qualified for the Champions League for next season.”
Guardiola’s usual cup policy is to play reserve goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, but he is sidelined with an injury so Ederson will keep his place.
“We are playing Ederson. Claudio is a little bit injured. In the last days he was not on bench, he has muscular problems and can’t play,” Guardiola said.
Guardiola also denied taking any pleasure in Liverpool’s failure to break City’s Premier League points record.
Liverpool would have shattered the 100-point total set by City in 2018 if they can won their last three games.
But a defeat at Arsenal, managed by Guardiola’s former City assistant Mikel Arteta, ended Liverpool’s hopes of making history.
“From my point of view it doesn’t cancel the league that Liverpool have done. It’s been incredible, we congratulate them,” Guardiola said.
“Always I thought that the record is there to be broken and one day it will happen, but 100 points is not easy, nothing has changed.”