Speaking in the official programme for Saturday's FA Cup Final at Wembley, Arsenal's Spanish midfielder says the Gunners have earned the right to play for the sacred trophy...
You’ve beaten Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton on the road to Wembley. What was the best performance?
They were all very special games for different reasons. It was important to beat Spurs, our big rivals, and we did that comfortably. Liverpool was also a massive result for us, having lost so heavily at Anfield in the league the previous week – and when we drew Everton at home, that was when I felt we had a chance of getting to the final. We put in another excellent performance, made more special as it was against my former team. I don’t think anyone can say we don’t deserve our place in the final after those wins.
You stood eight minutes from elimination in the semi-final. What was going through your mind?
I was thinking, ‘this is not right’. They hadn’t had a shot at goal and all of a sudden they were ahead through a penalty. We’d hit the post, their goalkeeper’s made some good saves and you start to wonder whether it’s going to be your day. We could sense the tension in the crowd but I felt that if we kept going the equaliser would come, and it did. After hitting the bar in extra-time we were resigned to penalties, but Łukasz [Fabianski] helped us a lot by saving the first two; it took a lot of pressure off our takers and it was a great feeling to make The Final.
You mention pressure. There is massive pressure on Arsenal to win after this nine-year trophy drought. Do you feel it as players?
When you play for a big club, there’s always pressure, but we know nine years without a trophy is not good enough for Arsenal Football Club. We need to change this, we need to put a trophy in the cabinet and we are all focused and determined to do it. We need this trophy as it would help the club – and this group of players – move forward. Once we have the experience of winning a trophy, it will create a lot of security in the team and a platform to go and win more silverware.
What happened in the Premier League?
It’s been a hard one to take mentally because we were fighting for the title for the whole season then in the space of three or four weeks it was gone. But I don’t agree we can’t handle the big games; it didn’t happen against Bayern, against Napoli, against Dortmund. It didn’t happen at home. Yes, we lost three times against our rivals in quick succession, but we know 100 per cent that we can’t afford to lose in that manner again. We have to learn from those mistakes.
You beat Hull 3-0 last month, so will that have any bearing on Saturday's FA Cup Final?
It might have a little psychological effect, but Hull will also be looking at what they did wrong on the day and what they can do to put it right. They made it really hard for us for the first 20 minutes, so we can’t forget that. We have to play our football and not get frustrated if things are not going our way. If we do that we have every chance of winning. We also have some very important players back from injury, which can only help us because the likes of Jack [Wilshere], Mesut [Özil] and Aaron [Ramsey] bring quality and competition to the team.
You lost your tooth at the KC Stadium – did you find it?
[Laughs] Yes, I found it. We put it in milk straight away, but it couldn’t be saved! To be fair the dentist has done an unbelievable job; he’s put an implant in at the moment, which looks just like my old tooth, and I’ll be having it done properly this summer!
Finally, what would it mean to you to lift The FA Cup?
To win a trophy is something I’ve dreamed about since the day I joined Arsenal and so it would be the best feeling ever. We’ve had a difficult end to the season, so to win The FA Cup would be great for the players, the fans, everyone at the club. We deserve a bit of success as a group for all our hard work this season.
To read the full interview, and to access exclusive content including Arsene Wenger, Aaron Ramsey and more, you can buy the official FA Cup matchday programme here, or download a digital version on iTunes.