As Aguero dinked his shot over Cech, who somehow managed to get smaller in size as the Argentinian ran at him, rage started to swell inside me.
Up to this point the system chosen by Arsene Wenger was working. It wasn’t flawless, and indeed Arsenal got lucky when Aguero’s half-time goal was ruled inadmissible, but the signs were encouraging. We rode a wave of City’s pressure, restricted them to shots outside the box and started to get a hold in the game after half-time.
The manner, and timing, of the goal, was infuriating. Ramsey overplayed with a simple pass on, one long ball took out the entire team, and Cech stopped in his tracks when a bad touch from Aguero gifted him with an opportunity to clear. Our three centre-backs were nowhere in sight.
I thought this was it, going by the players’ body language when they had to restart play. It looked an opportunity missed, because CIty didn’t look invincible and we certainly kept them in check for most of the game. However I was wrong, a realisation which gave me enormous satisfaction when Oxlade’s pinpoint cross was met by Monreal at the far post and we went level. After that we just couldn’t lose it, and, despite City hitting the woodwork twice in the dying stages of normal time, Alexis sealed another final at Wembley in extra time. Let’s look at the bits and bobs from the game.
The attitude stood out
It was unusual to see Arsenal willfully concede territory and possession, but setting your stall out to defend doesn’t automatically mean you’ll do it well. Arsenal defended well, a feat made easier by a new formation, but one which could have been rendered completely meaningless without application. And it was a joy to see our team defend as a unit.
Even more fulfilling (and surprising) was to realise of the three defenders Koscielny was the least impressive, at least visually. He was always the unassuming one, a strong silent type if you wish, however it just happened so Gabriel and Holding had spectacular personal duels with Sane and Aguero respectively. Both deserve a huge amount of credit for keeping City’s attackers at bay.
The new formation seems to be coming together …
I was naturally a little concerned the team only had one shot at getting used to a drastic tactical switch before hosting Manchester City. City, of course, had a season fraught with problems of their own, but there’s no denying they are coached by one of the most successful modern managers, nor that their attacking unit is a formidable one.
However, three at the back had exactly the effect Arsene Wenger was hoping for: it solidified our defense. The three centre-backs stayed behind when we had the ball and were more than capable of covering for wing-backs, if they were caught high up. Barring that complete breakdown for Aguero’s goal, three at the back seems to have made our defence less rickety.
The formation allows to get the best out of quite a few players at the same time. Gabriel probably had his best game in an Arsenal shirt, Holding showcased he can be one for now, as well as one for the future. Ramsey and Ozil kept their preferred central positions, Alexis was both on the left and closer to goal, while Ox and Monreal chipped in with stellar performances.
Indeed, of our entire team, I was only dissatisfied with Giroud’s contribution and Ramsey’s ineffectiveness. The former was both starved of service and seemed lost at how to bring others into play, the latter well … I’m not sure what is it Ramsey brings to the team that makes it worth starting him. I’m also not over the moon with Ozil’s performance, especially the bit where he squandered a couple of good chances on the counter in extra time, but at least the German had an overall positive influence.
… but an in-game adjustment made it even better
We have immediately become more effective with Welbeck on for Giroud, however it was not until extra time, when Welbeck was shifted wide left and Alexis moved to centre-forward, that we really shone.
I’m dubious as to why Wenger lost faith in playing Sanchez up front for such a long period of time. Mind you, there’s no guarantee the Frenchman won’t revert to Alexis left and Welbeck central on Wednesday, or even sticks with Giroud up front. It’s still a mystery though. As soon as Sanchez was placed closer to goal, put the ball in the back of the net.
It really looks just as simple as that: play Sanchez at centre-forward, he’ll score in every game. I sincerely hope Wenger will go back to his early season idea of Sanchez spearheading the attack, especially now we look to have found some defensive solidity.
We need a new goalkeeper this summer. A first-choice one
When Cech was subbed during our abysmal West Brom surrender, I though Ospina might prove he is the better goalkeeper and we’ll offer him a new contract, make him number 1 and Cech will sit on the bench for his last season. Everyone’s happy.
The reality was rather less bright. Ospina came on at the Hawthorns, made a blunder for the second goal, was a bystander for the third, then had a solid performance vs City and then got injured. That, for him and for us, is also part of the problem. Despite sitting on the bench with Cech playing, seemingly always ready, Ospina breaks down way too often nonetheless. For the second time in three seasons we were down to our third-choice goalkeeper because of it. And I was really worried we could face the same scenario last season too, when Cech pulled a hammy in March.
As for Martinez … Look, I like him. A lot. And I don’t blame him for the meek surrender to Palace, he couldn’t really do much about any of the goals. But because he plays so little, thrusting him as number one next season will be very risky. We don’t have a sample size good enough to judge whether Emi is ready, and banking a season on it seems churlish.
However it is clear Cech is past his prime. He has probably been past his prime by the time he joined us, but now his decline is clear. I’m really grateful to him for everything he’s done for the Club, but he is 34 and regressing. I’m perfectly fine to have him as back-up, however we need a solid Plan A this summer, especially with Ospina on the way out and Szczesny’s future at Arsenal hanging in the balance.
The last word
I have not enjoyed an Arsenal win so much for a long time. We showed character, tactical flexibility and mettle to come from behind. Yes, City are a team plagued by problems of their own, but that should not diminish our achievement.
We will face Chelsea on May 27th as our reward and will have a chance to become the most successful team in the history of the competition. And Arsene Wenger can become the most successful manager, with potentially 7 trophies of this kind.
A word on the Frenchman, by the way. I have deliberately put the picture above as the lead picture. I have never, and will never, doubt his loyalty, passion and desire to win with, and for, this Club. Arsene Wenger may be many things, but he is not indifferent to Arsenal’s fortunes, not a gun-for-hire. I hope he can win this year’s FA Cup and bow out on a high. He deserves a warm send-off.
I’ll be back with you right away to cover the Leicester game. Keep your eyes peeled.
Now, what did she wear?