Surely with all that possession, City were bound to carve out some goalscoring opportunities.
We were directly in line with the Aguero penalty shout and the goal which was disallowed because Sane’s cross was deemed to have gone out of play and both decisions appeared dubious.
By contrast, the Arsenal’s triumvirate of Ozil, Alexis and Giroud were irritatingly anonymous, while the rest of their team-mates produced a gutsy 45-minute rearguard action that ensured we were utterly unrecognisable from the vapid Gunners’ side that’s been guilty of running up the white flag of late.
Obviously, such a resolute display begs the question of those who were suddenly willing to stand up and be counted on Sunday, as to where they’ve all been for the rest of this campaign.
I can rarely recall making the Wembley odyssey, traveling around the North Circular with quite so much trepidation. I was even more anxious upon discovering the team news. I heard it said earlier in the week that Monday night’s experiment with three at the back against Boro might be a dress rehearsal for Man City. Yet our somewhat fortuitous fishing expedition at the Riverside hardly served as a validation of this formation.
Having stubbornly ignored the possibility for the past 20 years, heaven only knows why Wenger has waited until the end of April to demonstrate that he’s not a dinosaur, with the tactical equivalent of “dad dancing” to show the likes of Guardiola and Conte that “anything you can do, I can do”. But where against Boro it had looked logical to counter their aerial threat by playing three centre-halves, against City it appeared to be suicidal. I comforted myself with the thought that at least a semi-final exit might save us from the ignominy of getting stuffed by Chelsea in the final.
As the teams lined up at kick-off, all I could see was the huge space in front of Ramsey and Xhaka. Fearing that this midfield pairing would be likely to lack the necessary application, I was convinced that City would overrun us in the middle of the park. Admittedly Gabriel’s convenient clattering of Silva helped to deprive our opponents of their creator in chief, when Silva subsequently limped off, but I have to concede that for once Wenger got the tactics spot on, as the Gunners constantly crowded City off the ball. Can Ramsey and Xhaka use yesterday’s performance as a template of the sort of determination and commitment that’s expected of them in every outing, so we don’t return to the same passively lethargic incarnation against the Foxes on Wednesday.
Having stemmed the City tide first half, we seemed to grow in stature after the break, even if the Ox seemed to be the only player in red and white willing to take the opposition on. But in typical Arsenal fashion, just as we were beginning to dominate, we lost our defensive focus and committed the cardinal sin of leaving the back door open for Aguero to steam through. All the hope and enthusiasm that had built up in the Arsenal end over the course of the first hour of the game evaporated in that instant and I feared the worst and that the likes of Sane or Sterling would be bound to punish us on the counter, as we pressed for an equaliser.
Mercifully, fate was smiling upon us. On the radio they reported seeing Wenger in the hotel gym before 8am, but I reckon he was up early to say his prayers. Once Monreal had raised the roof at our end, by restoring parity with his “chocolate leg” and City’s best chances came bouncing back off the woodwork, there was a growing sense of our capacity to dig in and grind out the win.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen quite such a staunch looking Arsenal backline and it will be interesting to see if Koscielny and Gabriel can reproduce the same “they shall not pass” fortitude in the final. Alexis had barely raised a sweat in the 90, but in typical fashion, he was “Johnny on the spot” in extra-time. With Guardiola having bizarrely sacrificed City’s main man, they were left relying on Toure to bulldoze his way through, as we were left wishing away 19 minutes, which felt like an eternity.
A perfect weekend perhaps, but ultimately no one remembers semi-final winners. Sunday’s triumph will only prove significant if it can fuel a sprint finish that might provide some brief respite for our much-maligned manager and which results in some tangible reward.