Arsenal have suffered untold hardship in the hands of Manchester City in recent seasons. Infact for the past six meetings in the Premier League which has spanned over three seasons and three managers (Wenger, Emery and Arteta), the Gunners are yet to pick a point against the Citizens as they lost all six matches.
Just some weeks ago, the Gunners had suffered a 3-0 loss to City upon the start of “Project Restart”. Hence when the semi-finals pairing of the Emirates FA Cup was made and Arsenal were paired against City, many bookmakers tagged it a mismatch, already giving City the clear advantage and a bye into the finals. Arsenal’s only hope was premised on the fact that the last time both teams meant in the FA Cup, the Gunners ran away winners thanks to Alexis Sanchez’s extra time strike, that gave a feeling of hope albeit a slim one.
With chances of qualifying for Europe via league place finish ebbing away by the day, the Gunners saw winning the FA Cup as a stone that could hunt down two beautiful birds; a trophy to kickstart Arteta’s reign and a thoroughfare into the group stages of the Europa League next season. That seems to be in tandem with Arteta’s thinking with the way he rang changes for the must win game against Liverpool at the Emirates in midweek but that did not stop the Gunners from beating the newly crowned EPL champions. The victory gave them confidence going into the all important clash against City. At Wembley, Arsenal came, saw and for the first time in a “long time” conquered their foes, scoring two goals and kept a clean sheet. Two seeming impossibilities judging from the trajectory of recent past results. There are definitely things to note from the game, here are some;
1. Martinez is Leno’s rival
When Bernd Leno sustained injury in the ill-fated match against Brighton, most Arsenal fans thought it was all over for the Gunners as a team that had a leaky defense just lost its pair of save hands, having to turn to the rather untested youngster, Emiliano Martinez but assured performances against Wolves, Southampton, Leicester City and Liverpool showed the young Argentine had come of age and ready to battle at the highest level.
Yesterday, he proved his previous performances were no fluke. Behind a resolute and organized Arsenal defense was a goalkeeper that was calm and ready for whatever the Blues threw at him. It’s good news that Leno is back in slight training but it is better news that finally, Arsenal have joined the ranks of teams with two top goalkeepers battling for the number one shirt because during the Brighton game, an understudy stepped out but after those stellar performances, a rival has been born and, that is a good headache for Mikel Arteta.
2. Niles masterstroke
Having worked with Guardiola at City before, it is expected that Arteta would know a thing or two about the players. The knowledge he had of Mahrez was brought to the fore yesterday as he made the right move to neutralize the effect of Mahrez on the left wing. Despite having natural left footed players (Kolasinac, Saka) that could play on the left side of a three man defence, he opted for Aines Maitland Niles, a right footed player to play there, thereby neutralizing the threat of Mahrez to the barest minimum.
It is not a surprise that throughout his stay on the pitch, the Algerian could only manage a shot on target, one that was well saved by Martinez. The solidity of Niles meant Tierney could be a threat further forward and provided an assist for Aubamenyang’s second goal.
3. Aubamenyang on the Left
Many atimes this season, managers have been criticized with opting to play Aubamenyang on the left but different managers have persisted there. It looked like all of them saw in the Gabonese speedstar the same way, the reincarnate of Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry. The issue pundits have had with deploying Aubamenyang on the left was that he does not get as many opportunities to be the goal threat that he truly is. Yesterday, yet again, he was deployed on the left and from there he bagged a brace. For the first goal, he ghosted past Kyle Walker to toe-poke Pepe’s cross past Ederson.
For the second goal, from the same left wing, he latched on to Tierney’s cross to outrun City’s chasing pack led by Walker and then slot in between the legs of Ederson. No doubt, Aubamenyang is a lethal forward but his devastating effect might just come from him operating from anywhere across the frontline.
4. Arteta’s Many Tactics
One thing Arteta has shown in recent weeks is that he has multiple tactics up his sleeves and is not afraid to tweak them to fit the opposition. He has shown that he can play his own version of quick passing possession football and that would come in handy against average teams like Wolves, Tottenham and Leicester City but against superior oppositions like Liverpool and Manchester City, he has deployed varying conservative but efficient tactics. Against Liverpool he deployed a high pressing game that forced the Reds’ dependable legs and safe hands into errors.
After securing the lead, the team defended resolutely to see off the game. Against City, he showed unpredictable tactical nature, mixing possession football with swift counter attacking play. For the first goal, it was an interplay of 18 passes that involved almost all the players and for the second goal, it was a classical counter attack that caught the Manchester City defense out cold. The hallmark of a great manager is to have not just a plan but having a plan for many days and many plans for that day that the one plan would not work.
Now that Arsenal have booked a placed in the final of the Emirates FA Cup, next target is to finish the season as highly as possible and wrap it up with another FA Cup triumph at Wembley.