Arsenal park style but dig deep and strike gold

Arsene Wenger’s reaction at the full-time whistle said it all.

Arsenal park style but dig deep and strike gold

FA Cup semi-final

Arsenal 2 Monreal 71, Sánchez 101

Man City 1 Aguero 62 (AET)

With both fists clenched and his eyes shut, he roared towards the Wembley sky after watching Arsenal reach their 20th FA Cup final following 120 nerve-wracking minutes.

It is an achievement matched by no other club in England, but it was done yesterday with perhaps one of the most ‘unArsenal’ performances in recent memory.

This was not one for the footballing purists, not like Saturday’s semi-final between Chelsea and Tottenham, but it was exactly the dogged and resilient display Arsenal needed to overcome Manchester City.

Playing in their new look back three, the heroes of Wenger’s side were the likes of Gabriel and Rob Holding as they battled like at no other time this season.

The usual stars like Mesut Ozil were pushed to one side and instead this was substance over style.

Arsene Wenger shows his delight after Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory. Picture: PA

Arsene Wenger shows his delight after Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory. Picture: PA

Manchester City, for their part, dominated large parts of the match, just as any team coached by Pep Guardiola usually does, and when they took the lead through Sergio Aguero with 28 minutes remaining it looked as though they would be going through to face Chelsea in the final.

But Arsenal dug deep and responded for Wenger at a time when the pressure on him has been greater than ever.

Nacho Monreal equalised after 71 minutes and when extra-time followed it was no surprise that the seemingly inexhaustible Alexis Sanchez netted the winner in the game’s 101st minute.

“When you see the stands today, I feel happy when our fans go home and are happy,” said Wenger.

“We have gone through a very difficult period and we faced some adversity that made the situation more difficult from inside as well.

“But we have shown a united response and not a divided response. But of course we were mentally in a fragile position.”

The mental fragility Wenger speaks of has crippled Arsenal in recent weeks during their poor run of form, but it was nowhere to be seen yesterday.

Instead this was a performance that showed the players are clearly behind Wenger, a point Aaron Ramsey stressed afterwards as he revealed the squad’s hunger to go all the way for the Arsenal manager.

“We have let him down at times this season, we want to win it for him and ourselves,” said the Welshman.

“It was important to win today, to have something to look forward to.”

For Guardiola and Manchester City, everything started so well yesterday in the Wembley sunshine. Unchanged for the first time in the Spaniard’s reign at the Etihad, they dominated proceedings from the off.

David Silva was controlling the game from the middle of the park and he almost broke the deadlock too as his header was tipped over the bar by Petr Cech.

However, Silva was forced off midway through the first-half due to injury and City’s grip on the semi-final loosened, though his replacement Raheem Sterling narrowly volleyed wide.

Shortly before the break Sterling did have the ball in the net as he tapped home Leroy Sane’s cross after the German had whipped the ball in from the left byline.

But the goal was chalked off after the linesman judged the ball had gone out of play — when replays suggested it had remained in by a whisker.

“The linesman cannot see that situation,” said Guardiola afterwards.

“To see that ball you have to be in line, when you are four or five metres… it is impossible to see. He has to be in line.”

An Arsenal reprieve but after 62 minutes City did finally take the lead. Aaron Ramsey was caught in possession upfield and when Yaya Toure put a ball over the top for Aguero to chase against Monreal, there was only one winner.

An indecisive Cech slowly came off his line to narrow the angle, but he was left stranded as Aguero cutely lifted over him.

This is when Arsenal tend to fold. However, with all eyes on them at Wembley, they showed their bottle and got back into the game through Monreal’s equaliser as he prodded home Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross.

While there may have been a degree of unfamiliarity about Arsenal’s opening goalscorer, it was business as usual for the second as Sanchez struck four minutes before the end of the first period of extra-time.

The Chilean has now scored four times at Wembley for Arsenal, more than any other player in the club’s history, and he made no mistake as he fired home from four yards after Laurent Koscielny had nodded down Ozil’s free-kick.

It was a winning goal that had Wenger smiling again and as the dust settled, it felt like the perfect moment for the Frenchman to say he was staying.

But again, everyone was left waiting.

“I don’t know [what day I will go],” said Wenger.

“I feel the club is in a very strong shape and that we have a very strong overall situation, and a very strong team.

“One day I will leave anyway and I am sure Arsenal will be a great club and one everyone admires.”

ARSENAL (3-4-2-1):

Cech 4; Gabriel 9, Koscielny 8, Holding 7; Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (105 Bellerin 5), Ramsey 5, Xhaka 6, Monreal 8; Ozil 5 (118 Coquelin 5), Alexis 7; Giroud 5 (83 Welbeck 6).

Subs not used:

Martinez, Gibbs, Walcott, Iwobi.

MAN CITY (4-2-3-1):

Bravo 6; Navas 6, Kompany 7, Otamendi 8, Clichy 6; Fernandinho 6 (99 Fernando 5), Toure 6; De Bruyne 6, Silva 6 (23 Sterling 7 (106 Iheanacho 5)), Sane 7; Aguero 8 (99 Delph 4).

Subs not used:

Caballero, Zabaleta, Kolarov.




Craig Pawson

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