Arsene Wenger’s reaction said it all at full time, after Arsenal defeated Manchester City 2-1 and sailed into the finals of the FA Cup.
Ahead of the match, Manchester City were the clear favourites to win this game. Pep Guardiola and his side’s attacking force looked formidable in front of a struggling Arsenal squad. But trust Wenger to bounce back on track right when everybody had started writing them off even before the game began.
The clear hero behind Arsenal’s stupendous victory was Alexis Sanchez as the Chilean star struck from close-range even as the extra time minutes ticked away, to seal victory at Wembley for the Gunners.
Sergio Aguero was responsible for giving Manchester City the lead during the second half, thanks to an assist from Yaya Toure. Little did they know that the lead would not last, as Arsenal played a brilliant game of football, and restricted the City strikers from scoring beyond that.
Nacho Monreal scored Arsenal’s first goal as the scoreline remained tied. Finally, during extra time, Sanchez fired a close-range ball right into the net to seal a historic win for the Gunners.
An exciting match like this always gives us a lot of talking points, and let’s get right into them:
Arsene Wenger proves that experience and a willingness to change can achieve anything
If Arsenal’s performance in this game taught us anything, it is this: you are never too old to change. A lot had been said about Wenger not willing to experiment much, and he shocked everybody by making significant changes in his previous game, and in this one as well.
Now, it does not matter if he introduced a back three because he really wanted to, or because he was pressured to do so. It worked, and that’s all the fans will care about. The same backline managed to restrict an aggressive City attack to just one goal.
Wenger started off by deploying three centre-backs, and made Oxlade-Chamberlain and Monreal operate as wing-backs. He used the same system as in the game where they won 2-1 against Middlesbrough, even though that does allow the opposition to enjoy more possession.
The fact that City would have more time with the ball might’ve been dangerous. However, the three defenders worked together beautifully and put up impressive individual performances which somehow came together as a team.
For all of Wenger’s tactical twists employed in this game, Arsenal looked like the formidable opponent when compared to Manchester City. Wenger did come through for the Gunners at the last minute, and gave them plenty to smile about, and will go into the final against Chelsea on a positive note. It remains to be seen whether Wenger can manage to outsmart Conte, as that will truly be the feather in his cap.
Was Manchester City’s goal, right before half time, really not a goal?
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest talking points of the game came a little ahead of half time. Manchester City almost had the chance to pick up an early lead as Leroy Sane did well to wrap his foot around the ball and flick it to the box, where Aguero was waiting and he struck the ball towards the goal.
The ball hit Arsenal’s goalkeeper Petr Cech right on the line, or maybe a little over it, as Sterling rushed ahead and ensured that it went into the net. However, the next second saw the assistant’s flag go up, which suggested that the ball went out. Unfortunately for City though, replays later showed that the decision was most likely wrong.
Manchester City fans and Pep Guardiola looked visibly frustrated as the goal was disallowed. During half time, a lot of the replays and pictures suggested otherwise – that all was well with that strike and that it should’ve been a goal. Overhead videos clearly showed that the ball did not cross the line from Sane’s cross.
Had that decision been in City’s favour then the entire outcome of the match would’ve been a lot different. That one incident apart, the game did truly belong to Arsenal.
Yaya Toure fails to impress and inspire yet again
The daunting Yaya Toure is a total beast when he is form. He uses his physique to his advantage as he outplays his opponents, and yet he does so with a delicate touch coupled with powerful shots. However, off late, Toure has been out of form and that was really evident in tonight’s game. He has become slow and that is starkly highlighted by his own teammates’ speed. Toure has slowed City down on several occasions, and he did the same at Wembley.
Arsenal truly turned up the pressure on Manchester City after half time, and at those times, the Ivorian midfielder seemed static and looked rather lost. We could see some glimpses of his former glory though.
When the score was tied 1-1, he almost managed to put his team back on track with a splendid shot which Cech blocked. He did look imposing at that time, and continued to give us those glimpses even during extra time. In fact, he did give Leroy Sane a chance to win the game, but Sane failed to make anything out of it.
Having said all that, Toure can still be very dominant when it comes to English football. In tonight’s game, De Bruyne, Sane, Sterling and Aguero were not playing up to their full potential, but Toure did give the fans a couple of classy moments in what is most likely his last appearance at Wembley.
Wenger’s new tactics may not work out for Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud was given the responsibility of leading the line in this semi-final match against Manchester City. However, the Frenchman squandered a good opportunity to show that he can handle the pressure.
His display proved that this new formation that Wenger is experimenting with, is just not good enough for him. It always is a tricky business to balance change and the comfort of the players. And while Wenger scored big on the change factor, he did make things tougher for Giroud as he just seemed like he did not know what to do.
Earlier this season, Giroud scored several important goals for Arsenal and has always been an integral part of the Gunners squad. But in this formation, he appeared extremely static and lazy. His lack of dynamism and pace slowed Arsenal down from going forward.
Meanwhile, Sanchez was the hero for Arsenal tonight, and the Chilean has more experience playing upfront on his own. Thus, he will be better suited for the role that Giroud was given in this game, especially with the way Wenger expected him to play.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might’ve just found his perfect position
A Southampton alumnus, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Arsenal journey has been filled with hurdles and struggles. He has so far failed to play to his full potential after signing on for an initial amount of £12 million in 2011. The fact that he has still managed to stick around, shows his determination, more than anything else.
Although he started off as a speedy wide attacking player, Wenger has been trying to convert him into a more central player. This did cause some trouble for the player as he took time to adapt and change his style of play.
Luckily for him though, in tonight’s performance, he seems to have found the best role suited for him in the right wing-back position for Arsenal. There were moments when he almost looked lethal and ripped apart the City defense.
After a prolonged struggle, Chamberlain will be looking to take this display forward since that can prove his worth to Wenger, and he could also secure that spot for himself in the future and become one of the best to play in that position.