Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City’s FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal will provide an essential mental test before facing Real Madrid next month.
City have secured second place in the league so their defence of the Cup ensures Guardiola’s side can retain a competitive edge. On 7 August they host the La Liga winners in the Champions League last-16 second leg, holding a 2-1 advantage.
Guardiola said of Saturday’s semi-final: “These games are about the mentality, not the tactics. It will be a good test to see if we are ready to play against Madrid. But it’s now a semi‑final and there are a lot of factors: concentration, set pieces, throw-ins, the minimal details, how strong you are in your head, how you are in the bad moments. How you overcome the bad situations that are going to happen, how you never give up.”
City beat Arsenal 3-0 last month in the league, having won December’s away game by the same scoreline. Yet Guardiola insisted those wins and City’s 2-1 extra-time defeat by Arsenal in the 2017 semi-final will have no effect on the Wembley meeting.
“With what we’ve done in the last seasons, people will think we’re favourites but I’ve never won a game before because I was the favourite or lost a game because I was not the favourite,” he said. “We lost that day [in 2017], it was a tight game, but this period was just the beginning [of my time at City] and we were still getting to know each other.”
Guardiola did point to his record in semi-finals as a manager as a concern. At City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona he has lost seven of 21 semi-finals. He has managed in 17 finals (European Super Cups do not have semis) and won 16.
“I struggle a lot in my career in the semi-finals,” Guardiola said. “It was easier the finals. I handled them much better. I’ve lost many more semis than finals. It’s more difficult.”
The FA Cup was Guardiola’s first experience of English football. “Because hundreds of teams can start in this competition, that’s what makes it special. And it’s just one game, not two legs. The tradition of the FA Cup, it’s great.”
Claudio Bravo, who usually starts in domestic cup matches, is injured so Ederson will start in goal.