Arsenal and Manchester City locked horns in the first of the two FA Cup semi-finals. For the fifth time in the cup’s history, these two teams faced each other with the team in red winning three of the previous four meetings. For the Gunners, this match meant more than a chance at silverware, it provided an opportunity to get back into Europe which would have a knock-on effect on their finances.
For Manchester City, Pep Guardiola’s men were out for revenge in retaliation to all those who doubted the morality of their financial dealings. They saw the FA Cup as another opportunity to exert their dominance over English football.
The game started the same way everyone thought it would, with Manchester City dominating the ball and Arsenal sitting deep. Mikel Arteta’s masterplan would strike first blood 20 minutes in, as Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang would exquisitely poke the ball into the far post from a Pepe cross. The Gunners would professionally hold on to the lead into half time, seeing out a half they had the better chances in.
The second half would deliver much of the same, with City keeping Arsenal penned into their own box. However, just like the first half, an Arsenal counter-attack ending with an Aubameyang strike would occur as the in-form striker would double his tally in the 71st minute. The win sends Arsenal into the FA Cup final, giving them a chance to extend their dominance over the cup.
Here are 5 talking points from Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester City.
#5 Granit Xhaka: the leader Arsenal needed
The list of players who have significantly improved under Arteta is long, but Granit Xhaka may be top of that list. The Swiss international has been the first name on the team sheet under the new regime and has responded well to that faith. In the space of one season, Xhaka has gone from publicly falling out with the fans to becoming the team’s most valuable midfielder.
Up against the quick passing of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan, Xhaka ensured he blocked all the passing lanes, thus forcing City out wide. His positioning, ability to break up play and win fouls was instrumental in helping the Gunners pull off a masterclass. In the middle of a congested pitch, the 27-year-old made 5 clearances, 1 interception, 28 passes and wasn’t dispossessed once
.#4 Bad day at the office for Manchester City
It was just one of those days for Manchester City. The former PL and FA Cup champions were not able to even have a sniff at goal against a resolute Arsenal defence. Pep Guardiola’s men dominated 70.7% possession of the game, completing 552 passes in the process.
Although they monopolised the ball, Manchester City could only muster 1 shot on target in the 90 minutes. That’s very unlike them and it begs the question as to how much of this defeat can be attributed to them playing poorly or Arsenal defending immaculately.
Coming into this game, City had beaten the Gunners in all of their last 7 meetings, with an aggregate of 20-2. That’s what you call pure dominance but unfortunately for Pep, the man he taught all his secrets would use them against him today. City were poor because Arsenal suffocated them through the middle and Pep couldn’t provide his players with a plan b.