A lot of football fans dislike Manchester City – for good reason. Which makes this FA Cup semi-final victory all the sweeter.
The Premier League is still investigating their finances, even if UEFA isn’t.
TV match commentators often engage in annoying myopic eulogising of City – without putting the team in the context of a nation state. But there has been plenty of negative comment, in the wake of the CAS ruling overturning the two year European ban – which has also set moves for change in motion.
Arteta made five changes from Liverpool – Bellerin, Mustafi, Ceballos, Aubameyang and Maitland Niles was back. Saka was – on the bench. Maitland-Niles was surprise choice – but having a quick right footed player against Mahrez, made sense as the game progressed. Tierney played in a narrow three at the back with Luiz and Mustafi.
Most Arsenal fans viewed this game with feint hope rather than expectation – with the last games between the sides ending in a 20-goals to 2 aggregate. City had won the last nine times at Wembley. And have ‘won’ the last 8 out of ten trophies in the ‘national’ game.
They fielded a strong team with David Silva, Gundogan and De Bruyne in midfield and Mahrez and Jesus up front.
In the first midfield skirmishes, Ceballos was too slow – and a Mendy cross was cut out by Tierney.
Arsenal continue to play out from the back – come what may and Mustafi was tackled in the area trying to beat the press and nearly gave away a goal – saved by Xhaka running back. Usually there was an extra man to bet the press and start attacks with that extra space.
Lacazette was dropping back to help Xhaka and Ceballos man mark the three city midfielders – to good effect.
City perpetuated their cynical fouls when Arsenal looked to counter.
But they managed to attack. Luiz, playing out of his skin, intercepted a pass and sent it long to Aubameyang who fired straight at Ederson.
Another attack saw Bellerin pass to Pepe whose bending cross was met by Aubameyang with a half volley side-foot which went in off the post.
Bellerin then sent a blind pass to the middle of the area. De Bruyne shot – but it was blocked by Xhaka, putting his body on the line..
De Bruyne mis-hit a shot into the ground and Sterling headed it over.
Guardiola sent City out early for the second half – and there was much more tempo to their play. Gundogan dropped back and Sterling took up a more withdrawn position.
Ceballos gave the ball away again in midfield. De Bruyne put in a low cross but Sterling drove it wide.
Mahrez drove inside and Martinez saved – just.
And pin ball broke out in the Arsenal area, symbolising intense resistance – like the Liverpool game.
De Bruyne hit the side netting in a free-kick similar to his free-kick goal at Chelsea.
Mustafi went to ground against Sterling in the area – but VAR deemed it a fair challenge as he touched the ball
The corner hit Sterling in the face – and Martinez saved. That was a moment when it dawned that it could be one of those games when one team is never going to score.
Foden and Rhodri came on for Gundogan and Mahrez.
De Bruyne cut in and Silva ran in and knocked it wide.
Pepe chased a kick out and knocked it back to Tierney who set Aubameyang away to put it through Ederson’s legs.
Pepe came off for Willock. Torriera on for Lacazette. And Arsenal continued in their newly adopted Atletico Madrid style.
De Bruyne just shot wide hitting the stanchion.
Mustafi was injured in a race with Sterling with a potential hamstring injury. But the team held out – quite comfortably in the end.
February 2018 was the last time City were beaten in a domestic cup competition.
And Arsenal reach a record 21st FA Cup final.
David Luiz said: It was great result against one of the best teams the world. We were humble. And understood the way we had to play. We had to be mature about which level we are in the process. Day by day we are improving. The team deserved it.
“All the team defended – but not just the defenders.
“Everyone has to play 100%. It is part of the process.
“Football is about survival. It was what I did. I worked hard every day. And am humble to work more.
A beaming Mikel Arteta said: “I am extremely happy. But it is sad there is no moment with the fans. It was gritty. We try to do the best with the opportunities. We were well organized. They are the best team in Europe – the way they play positionally. We have great chemistry. We believe in what we are trying to do. There are signs of something happening. We are trying to close the gaps down.”
Pep Guardiola said: “We didn’t play good. We didn’t play the first half like the second. We had much quicker passing in second half. We weren’t ready. We knew they’d play five at back and press at the front. We knew it.”
Kieran Tierney said; “We need to stick together. We took confidence from the Liverpool game.”
Arsenal: Martínez, Mustafi (Substituted for Holding at 87), David Luiz, Tierney, Bellerín, Ceballos (Substituted for Kolasinac at 88), Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Pépé (Substituted for Willock at 72), Lacazette (Substituted for Torreira at 78), Aubameyang
Man City: Ederson, Walker, García, Laporte, Mendy, De Bruyne, Gündogan (Substituted for Rodri at 66), Mahrez (Substituted for Foden at 66), Silva (Substituted for Fernandinho at 87), Sterling, Gabriel Jesus