Post Christmas, Arsenal have revealed all of their mental fragilities on a frequent basis, with a long list of pathetic performances accumulating. The annual title ‘chase’ collapse and subsequent Wenger in/out arguments have seen new heights of bitterness, and infighting has increased. On Sunday at Wembley, Arsenal flipped their mental frailties, showing resilience, passion and willpower, that helped overcome a 1-0 deficit. The performance, and result, was one all Arsenal fans could be proud of, up in the heavens of Wembley, all the issues surrounding the club briefly escaped my mind as Sanchez booked a place in next months Cup Final. This campaign has only seen one similar moment of pride for Gooners, which was our 3-0 trouncing of Chelsea, which in reality set them off on a run of games to win the league.
Going into the weekend’s Semi Finals, Arsenal were rightly considered the fourth best side remaining, but talking to mates in the build up we agreed that as long as we showed some guts, some fight, some spirit, then losing wouldn’t be humiliating.
Often criticised for his stubbornness, I have to commend Wenger on the decision to stick to a 3-4-2-1, only previously trailed in a stumble over the line against a poor Middlesbrough. Naturally, the players are still adapting to this new formation, reflected by the numerous occasions where Sane, Navas, Clichy and Sterling found themselves with space behind the wing backs, or in close proximity to the box, but it’s a vibrant system that suits man of the match Oxlade-Chamberlain. Seeing Arsenal play in a new formation is refreshing, and while the change and result doesn’t change my stance on Wenger I’m pleased he has an opportunity now to resign on a Cup success.
The game itself was tense as a semi should be, charged by a hearty atmosphere (largely generated by Arsenal’s 30,000 contingent) was thrilling. The officials had a poor game, making several weak decisions, although the call to disallow City’s goal was fine by me. Both sides gave away 20 fouls, many of which were soft and not fouls, ref Craig Pawson didn’t allow the occasion to flow, although on reflection this style of disjointed game may have suited Arsenal. Much of the post match opinions have been dominated by City having a great injustice, which isn’t a fair reflection of the match. Yes they hit the woodwork twice, but bear in mind Yaya Toure’s effort was a speculative effort (and also a great save from Petr Cech) and while Deplh missed a sitter Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck both missed clear cut chances. City had over double the amount of shots on goal, but like Arsenal only hit the target on three occasions. Had it been Spurs that beat City and not us maybe the headlines would’ve heralded a defensive masterclass? Monreal used his wing back role to full effect by grabbing the equaliser that saw both wing backs link up to create a well crafted goal, Sanchez’s was a far more scruffy and scrambled goal, but the perfect goal to send your side to a Cup Final.
Amongst all my praises, Ramsey and Xhaka were below par as a midfield pairing, and Giroud had a game to forget. Ramsey was at fault for City’s goal (although Cech shouldn’t have gone down so quick making it simple for Aguero) and Xhaka still seems lost. Yaya Toure grew into the game and towards the end the pair seemed weary and were sliced apart too often. Despite this Xhaka did produce one of the highlights of the match as he encouraged the Arsenal faithful and his passion is rivalled by few in the squad. Gabriel, Holding and Koscielny were impressive as a trio, each having strong performances – Holding demonstrated fantastic maturity while Koscielny showed glimpses of leadership along with his natural class. Undoubtedly Oxlade-Chamberlain was man of the match, his raw talent has now been smoothed over into a dangerous player whose decision making in the final third is improving, shown by the fantastic cross for Monreal’s goal. The players made me feel proud, for the first time in a long time, they were unified, physical and mostly defensively sound.
I finish on a note about Arsenal’s support. Which at times, I think, dragged the side over the line. We out-sung those in sky blue, there’s no debate about that, it further intensified the pride I felt throughout the game seeing 30,000 Gooners with arms in air and remembering what being an Arsenal fan is about – and not pitiful scraps over Wenger. Up The Arsenal and onto the North London Derby!