There’s just something about Arsenal and the FA Cup.
Mikel Arteta’s side arrived at Wembley with next to no one giving it a chance against Manchester City, yet it’s the Gunners and not Pep Guardiola’s men who will return next month for the final after a fabulous 2-0 win.
This was a victory that came straight from the training ground, one in which every single player played their part. Fortune may have favored Arsenal when it saw off Premier League champion Liverpool in midweek, but it deserved everything it got at Wembley on Saturday evening.
Tactically, Arteta got it spot on. It was a win that highlighted why, after the dark days of the first half of the season, there is real cause for optimism now in north London.
Time and time again we’ve seen Arsenal sides capitulate in the face of superior teams. Since beating City here in the 2017 semifinal the Gunners have played them seven times, losing all seven, conceding 20 and scoring just two.
But they shrugged that record aside to book their spot in what will be the club’s 21st FA Cup final, where they will meet Chelsea or Manchester United on Aug. 1.
This has been a horrible season for Arsenal at times, one of the worst in recent memory. The fact it dropped below Burnley in the Premier League table moments before kickoff said it all.
But the past week has shown that, under Arteta, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In terms of quality, the gap between Arsenal, Liverpool and City is vast. Its been clear to see over the two games in the past few days. But the signs of improvement under Arteta are undeniable.
And while they were gifted their goals against Liverpool in midweek, at Wembley the Gunners earned them through fabulous moves for which City had no answer. Both were scored by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, his 24th and 25th of the season, but both came from moves that started deep inside their own half.
The first came after 19 minutes and was finished by Aubameyang after a move that started with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, featured 18 passes and included 10 of Arsenal’s 11 players.
Eight of the passes were made in Arsenal’s own penalty area as the Gunners sucked City in before springing forward on the counterattack. Alexandre Lacazette, who was magnificent throughout, found Nicolas Pepe, who picked out Aubameyang perfectly at the back post to score.
It was a wonderful goal and the 25 minutes that followed up to halftime were the best Arsenal has produced under Arteta since he arrived in December. The defense was superb, with Martinez not having to make a single save, and going forward the Gunners produced some excellent combinations, with the final ball all that was lacking.
The inevitable onslaught from City came in the second half and in previous meetings Arsenal would have folded. But not on Saturday night. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos were magnificent in front of a defense marshaled superbly by David Luiz, dropping in and offering real protection.
City dominated possession, but only mustered one shot on target — with Martinez saving well down to his left after Riyad Mahrez had cut inside and gotten a shot away.
And then on 71 minutes, Arsenal broke away and put the game to bed. Pepe was again involved, chasing down a clearance before finding Kieran Tierney. The Scotland international spotted Aubameyang’s run and there was only one outcome once the Gabon international had sprinted clear.
City tried to raise itself but couldn’t. Cross after cross came in, but Luiz dealt with everything that came his way and anything that bypassed the Brazilian was collected by Martinez.
City was well beaten in the end. Outfought on the pitch and out-thought off it. This may be Arsenal’s worst league season in 25 years, but for the first time in a long time it looks like it has a plan.
The Gunners hit rock bottom during the final weeks of Unai Emery. The long journey back toward the top looks as if it has begun.
Source: Read Full Article