Palace’s talisman Zaha will come up against a Watford team that openly admitted they set out to systematically get him booted off the pitch when Troy Deeney’s side won 2-1 at Vicarage Road on September.
Hornets striker Deeney astoundingly admitted on BBC Radio after the game: “You take it in turns kicking him. I know no one wants to hear that, but you go: ‘You hit this time, you hit him the next time’. You don’t have the same player tackle him because you know you’re going to get booked.”
A frustrated Zaha was then sent off at Southampton in January after being persistently fouled, lashing out and then sarcastically applauding referee Andre Marriner for awarding him a yellow card.
Palace go back to Vicarage Road at lunchtime today aiming to make the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the second time in three seasons.
But Palace’s Scottish midfielder McArthur is adamant that Zaha has matured and is ready for whatever treatment is meted out to him today.
McArthur, who was in the team when Palace lost to Manchester United in the final in 2016, and won the Cup with Wigan in 2013, insisted: “Wilf is maturing as a player.
“He’s had it a lot of his career where he’s been kicked, and he knows how to deal with it now, getting up and getting on with it, and producing magic moments.
“He was frustrated with his reaction at Southampton. It’s not right and he knows that, but if someone was to keep kicking you, you’d get frustrated at times.
“We’re all human. But for one mistake that Wilf made, he’s produced many magic moments.
“You obviously speak to the referee and try and make sure he’s being protected but, with Wilf, he just needs to keep being him. He’s an amazing player. They obviously see him as the danger man. We can speak to the ref, but Wilf will do what he does, and he can keep them quiet by keep scoring.
“He’s very professional. He knows that he has the ability to hurt anyone and, if he keeps doing that, he’ll keep progressing.”
McArthur added: “He’s that good a player that he gets by people and they obviously foul him. But all the top players get that.
“Look at Eden Hazard, one of the best players in the league, and how many times he gets fouled. It’s because he’s a good player. When people go by you, you try and stop them.”
Watford have done the double over Palace in the league this season, also winning at Selhurst Park in in January, so this is a tough task for Roy Hodgson’s men.
But Palace beat Watford 2-1 in the semi-final on the way to Wembley in 2016, and McArthur believes that this is a better side this time round.
The 31 year old said: “As a squad, this is the best I’ve been involved in at Palace, and it seems to be getting better.
“I would be happy with any player starting, it’s that good. If the manager makes six or seven changes, the team doesn’t get weaker. The talent level is very high.”
One of the reasons for that is the emergence of bright young talent like right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has made that position his own since coming into the team at the end of last season. The youngster was considered unlucky to be left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad this week, but McCarthy is sure his time will come.
He said: “Aaron has been like this since the first day he came in training with us. It’s amazing. He was a winger and the manager’s changed him to right-back.
“Even Wilf couldn’t get by him. You started noticing him more and more.
“Now he’s doing really well. He’s getting much better on the ball, more confident. How far he’s come is incredible, but he’s the same boy, down to earth, works so hard, listens. With that temperament, the character, the ability he’s got, he can go – which is probably our downfall – to the very top.
“But we obviously want to keep our best players, and Aaron’s definitely one of them.”