A week that initially looked like a season-ending for Arsenal, with upcoming games against arguably two of the best teams in the country, has been turned into a season-saving act through sheer determination and will of Mikel Arteta.
Remarkably, we recorded our first win over Liverpool in 5 years and then followed it up with our first over Manchester City since we last defeated them in the same fixture 3 years ago.
This latest win means that Arsenal will be playing their 4th FA Cup Final of this decade against either Manchester United or Chelsea who will be playing later today.
It may well be possible we will see a complete repeat of our 2017 FA Cup win run in which we defeated City in Semis and Chelsea in Final to win it. History may repeat itself again.
As far our latest meeting with City, a new chapter in history was in store for us. Arteta, who served as the assistant manager to Pep Guardiola, had another chance to better his master. This time he took it with both hands with Aubameyang, once again, bearing the torch for the Gunners.
His two goals saw Arsenal comfortably into the Final. It is fitting in a way because, without him, I have no idea where we would have been this season.
Arsenal started slowly and had it not been for some last ditch defending and Sterling looking almost clueless on the ball, we might have been punished. ‘Sloppy defending’ was again the order of the day. Part of the reason can be attributed to both teams tendency to press high.The sloppiness started with Arsenal but soon City took over.
When Auba got his first chance, he could only hit it straight into the chest of Ederson. Moments later, Xhaka pressured De Bruyne into giving ball away but in the key moment, Auba failed to find the right pass.
Despite the multitude of mistakes, Arsenal’s opener was totally due to some proper football. It started from the back and progressed through midfield with a switch of play towards the edge of the box, where Pepe delivered a pin point cross to Auba, who had stole a number on Kyle Walker, to dispatch it against the inside of the bar.
The goal sent everyone into a shock including us Arsenal fans. It clearly helped our boys gain some confidence. Our passing improved, our control got better and we finally started to match City in terms of possession. We had few other opportunities but failed to take advantage of them.
On the other hand, City’s passing became passive and they lost the urgency. They looked so poor that towards the end of the half, Pep could be seen in constant communication with his empty chair partner and other coaches to try to find a solution to the problem.
We all expected better from City in second half and there seemed a clear plan to favor Mahrez’s side of the pitch. But Arteta’s special deployment of Niles for this area worked superbly as he almost neutralized the Algerian. After testing Martinez once, he was hooked off early.
On the other side, Arsenal did show some vulnerability. While City was able to get the better of us on multiple occasions, Sterling was so shocking he seemed unable to buy a goal even if he tried. One dragged wide, one put over, one failed to connect from 5 yards out and then a desperate penalty appeal.
As the game progressed one could sense it was Arsenal’s day. Everything City touched turned to rust and everything for Arsenal turned to gold. Soon the Gunners were out of sight when Tierney lobbed a delightful ball over the top of City’s defense to release our Gabon international free on the left. And he kept his cool to slot a simple finish through the legs of City’s Brazilian keeper to book another ticket to Wembley.
Having beaten Liverpool the same way, Arsenal felt comfortable in defending deep and no matter what Pep threw on, we always had the answer in form of a block or last ditch tackle.
- David Luiz truly redeemed himself by putting out a kind of defensive display that legends of old would be proud of. He truly justified the praise that was bestowed on him earlier by Pep Guardiola.
- Xhaka once again showed why you cannot think of naming any midfield without him in it. He did not only provided control and steel in the middle but he also showed his strength when it came to pressing.
- Ainsley Maitland Niles has been left on the brink of leaving but he was picked for this game to do a job on Riyad Mahrez and he did that to perfection. His industry and the defensive work on the left makes you wonder why we would ever be thinking of letting him leave.
Arsenal may have lost some of its old identity and can no longer think of matching teams like City toe to toe but in games like these they showed that despite their limitation, they are capable of beating any team on a given day.
Arsenal only had 30% of the ball with only 5 shots compared to City’s 12 but on the day the results mattered and Gunners secured that.
Arsenal now has one game in hand to book their ticket to Europe and save this disaster of a season with silverware. If we manage to do this, it will be a miracle and a great achievement on Arteta’s part. He has shown he can deliver the right tactics on a given day. But how far can he can truly take us will now be on the agenda when Arsenal returns to the Wembley.
Written by Omair Javed aka @omijaved
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