Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester City
If Arsène didn’t use up all his luck in one afternoon, this season may yet end with a smile. An FA Cup final and a contract renewal? It seems vaguely familiar…
This morning, who cares? Arsenal occupied the unfamiliar ground as underdogs and dredged their footballing spirit to give the performance which we’ve craved for so long. Character, grit, determination and no little flair; absent friends welcomed back to the party. City supporters complained we kicked them. And?
The gameplan of being level at half-time worked, more by luck than judgement it seemed. On the back foot for most of the first half, Arsenal responded strongly in the second and ultimately, there can be few complaints about the result.
And in any case, I don’t care for the complaints. Much to BTs chagrin, Howard Webb refused to call Ox’s coming together with Aguero as a penalty. How they howled. When he used their own logic against them, the pundits disavowed their previous stance and disagreed with him about Sane’s cross going out of play.
Television cameras suggested that the ball hadn’t but ‘angles’ is the operative word; none of them were flush on the line so in my view, they remain inconclusive. Leaning toward an officiating howler, but the element of doubt remains. By my reckoning that makes no difference either because the final score was 2 – 1, is 2 – 1 and shall be forever recorded as 2 – 1.
Man of the Match deservedly went to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for tireless work on the right. He must have been run close by Granit Xhaka, Gabriel, Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding.
Setting Your Sights For The Sky
For the most part, the defence played well. Yes, they gave up chances but every team in the world does the same. There were harum-scarum moments but this is Arsenal and frankly, it wouldn’t be Arsenal if we didn’t live on the edge.
But we won and I still feel like pinching myself to see if it’s true.
Arsène used Middlesbrough as a dress rehearsal with three at the back and the players were more comfortable with the concept yesterday. Pushed deep in the first half, it seemed that Wenger was once again playing rope-a-dope with City, letting them have all the ball, before hitting them on the break.
The withdrawal of David Silva helped Arsenal get more control of the game. I dare say the gameplan was to get to half-time level, but either way it worked. Xhaka was putting in a shift in midfield, curbing the attacking instincts of his opposite numbers. However, City were far from dominant; it was a cagey affair, overall.
Which soon passed in the second half. Arsenal enjoyed a purple patch and typically conceded. Ramsey ceded possession cheaply, and a long ball to Aguero caught Monreal on his heels. There was a moment when he looked like catching the Argentinean but the City striker found another gear. Cech was slow off his line, with a heavy touch seemingly within his reach, only for a prodded finish to find the net.
While it was a succession of individual errors, the main issue has to be leaving just Monreal with Aguero. Basic defending, even in youth football, is never leave your last defender in a one v one situation. There should have been two back, marshalling Aguero and certainly making life harder for him that it initially was.
Crucially, we didn’t fold as we have in the past. Within ten minutes, Ox lifted in a great cross from the right and Monreal gave it the finish it deserved.
Learning How To Hit Back
The Spaniard has adapted to the wing back role well, particularly since Kieran Gibbs seems more naturally suited to that position. For him to level the tie with a fine volley on his ‘wrong’ foot, indicates a player full of confidence, or at least revived. Or one who didn’t have time to think, which seems more likely.
He might have doubled that tally later in the game when Welbeck snatched a header wide, with Monreal in full flight behind him better placed to score.
You can’t help but be happier that Nacho scored. He has been out of sorts this season but never stops giving his all. An unsung ‘hero’ of the team; in the mould of Winterburn and McNab, both of whom were criminally overlooked by their country.
City will point to Cech’s fingertip save onto the post or Fernandinho’s thumping header against the bar as turning points in the game. Holding went equally close with a header which rippled the top of the net. Welbeck had a couple of clear chances as well and I wonder if in the future, he will be the left-sided striker with Alexis through the middle instead of Giroud?
The Frenchman, starved of service, was largely ineffective against Kompany but he needs to adapt to the new formation as much as anyone. He was marginally less anonymous than at the Riverside. However, if we don’t carve the opportunities for him, it’s going to be a lot of frustration until the summer.
And the winner came inevitably from Alexis. He and Özil worked hard for the team throughout the ninety minutes. More lazy punditry castigated the German for his languid style but the only genuine criticism is the absence of his right foot. As City pressed for an equaliser, several breaks faded as he constantly turned inside.
Going Out In A Blaze Of Glory
Wenger’s redemption came from a player his acolytes routinely criticize for not running far enough. As if that’s some sort of telling metric of effort. The Chilean pounced when the England international fluffed his lines in the penalty area. Evading the hesitant challenges, he larruped the ball home from close range and break Pep’s heart.
Arsène’s release of joy was a pressure cooker lid flying off at the final whistle. Why not? He deserves praise this morning for making the change in formation work, even though I’m far from convinced over Aaron Ramsey in the central role. While the victory doesn’t change my view about his future, it’s churlish as far as I’m concerned not to give him credit when things go right.
And we’re in the cup final. Who will be our Ray Parlour this time?