Crystal Palace midfielder James McArthur chasing fourth FA Cup semi-final spot – but knows Watford will fancy their chances of progressing too

BY YANN TEAR
James McArthur says he is relishing the chance to have another shot at Wembley glory – and make amends for the agony of the 2016 FA Cup final defeat.

The 31-year-old Scottish midfielder, who retired from international duty this season to concentrate on his club career, has already tasted the ultimate thrill of winning domestic football’s famous old trophy.

But he will be spurred on not just by the memory of that great giant-killing victory with Wigan Athletic against Man City in the 2013 final, but also the hope of making up for defeat three years ago in Crystal Palace colours.

Watford, who have done the double over Roy Hodgson’s men this season, stand in the way of another visit to the home of football.

“I have been lucky enough to be in three semi-finals, so it would be amazing to have the opportunity to get back to Wembley again, go one further this time with Palace and try and win,” he said this week in the build-up to tomorrow’s quarter-final tie at Vicarage Road.

“But we know Watford will be thinking the exact same thing. We know it is a tough game for us. They’ve got results against us this year, so we need to try and put that right by winning and getting to the semi-finals.

Crystal Palace’s James McArthur in action

“A final defeat is obviously a low moment in your career. It is such a low point and hard to pick yourself up at the time. But I don’t think it affects any other game that you play in. I don’t think now: ‘I need to do this, or we need to do that.’ We will have a game plan that the manager will put out that we need to stick to get through.”

If McArthur is looking for omens, he may look to the play-off and FA Cup semi-final victories over Watford in recent years as a pointer to Saturday.

The Kevin Phillips penalty which settled the 2013 Championship play-off final. The goals from Yannick Bolasie and Connor Wickham which saw them beat the Hornets to set up a final showdown with Man United three years later.

But he might also take it as a blessing in disguise that the tie is away from home, given the club’s struggles at Selhurst Park this term.

“I think this year we have not been as clinical at home as we have been away,” he acknowledged.

“You look at some of the performances at home and they have been excellent this year. Cardiff at home, we had more shots than I have ever seen us have. West Ham at home, I think we had 26, 27 shots in the second half. We had five away to Leicester and scored four. So I think it is about being clinical.

“Maybe it does suit us away from home a bit that teams come onto us and we have a lot of counter attack and pace and quality upfront. But we have got confidence where we can play home or away.”

Should the Eagles progress to Wembley, there is little doubt that the experienced McArthur will not be fazed, whoever they play, having been involved in one of the competition’s greatest shocks six years ago, under Roberto Martinez at Wigan.

“A lot of our amazing performances that year came in the FA Cup,” he said.

“Our players really came alive in it. I think you will remember Callum McManaman. Every single round he was unplayable. He scored a lot of goals in it as well in the run.

“The final was amazing. We actually played City two weeks before, away, and we put in one of the best performances we have against City. We played the same tactics in the final where our winger would stay high and our striker would drop back in.

“We played really well and we lost, just, and the question the manager asked in the final was: ‘Have we got enough to go and win?’ He asked us this, which at the time was a masterstroke because I think he knew we were going to play well.

“Have you got that winning mentality to go and do it? On the day we did. It was such a special day. I think it was [Pablo] Zabaleta that got sent off and then we thought to ourselves: ‘Wow, we have got an amazing chance here.’ And when Shaun Maloney puts the ball in, Ben Watson connects with a header that is one of the best headers I have seen. And he wasn’t even meant to be in the box.

“An amazing day and something you can never take away from the guys that were there.”

Palace fans will be dreaming that McArthur might yet repeat that glorious day with their team, as they make the short trip up to Hertfordshire tomorrow. He came close before. Maybe he can go one better this time.

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