This season the players have – rightly in my opinion – been chastised for some of their performance and at times the perceived lack of effort they deliver for Arsenal football club. We’ve seen too many under par performances and that has led to widespread condemnation.
So it only seems fair that this morning that collective of players are applauded for their efforts against a Man City side who were favourites, in better form, as well as looking like they might sweep us aside in the first half at Wembley yesterday.
What we saw in the north west London sunshine was a fighting performance which had all of the ingredients of a winning side. There was battle, there was resolute defending, there were chances taken, there was unity and there was both brilliant individual and team performances that will see us get to another Wembley Cup final against Chelski.
Arsène’s decision to stick to a back three was not completely unsurprising and Pep would probably have been half expecting it yesterday. The same team that lined up against Middlesbrough did so against City and much like the Middlesbrough game, we weren’t 100% convincing if I’m honest. City looked the form team in that first half and dominated the ball as we looked to contain and remain compact and difficult to break down. And actually, from a defensive point of view, we were. There were a few hairy moments including Sterling having a goal rightly chalked off because the ball was out of play, but I don’t remember Cech making save after save in the first half, more that City got in to good positions but never quite made us pay.
I was with Dave Seager for the day and both of us thought it was only a matter of time before we fell behind. In that first half it just felt like it wasn’t really clicking and the way we were unable to retain possession was causing us problem after problem. But we held on until halftime and that gave us hope of an improvement in the second.
And we weren’t disappointed. From the first couple of minutes we were more cohesive as a team. We started to string passes together. And we started to create chances. The goal we were attacking was right in front of us and the ball was being seen more on this side than anywhere else. So perhaps it was inevitable that we’d concede first.
And it was a poor goal to concede. Right from Ramsey’s poor touch to concede possession, through to Xhaka being too far up the pitch and Monreal being a little too high to allow Aguero to race through and chip over Cech, it was a sucker punch just as we were starting to get in to the game.
In yesterday’s pre match blog I spoke about the game itself being season defining. Well, I think there are also moments in games that could potentially been seen as that. That period after that City goal went in could have resulted in an Arsenal capitulation and leave us wondering what’s left of the season now. But instead we got a response from the team. The urgency was there. The desire and drive all existed and we kept plugging away at City. The Ox was fantastic on the right hand side and Nacho on the other had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt. So perhaps it was somewhat fitting that both combined for the goal. The Ox’s cross looked like it missed everybody, but in ghosted the Spaniard and with his weaker foot he sent us in to raptures behind the goal.
Parity restored and whilst the 3-5-2 hasn’t been perfect after two displays, there’s no doubt the wing backs worked yesterday.
It’s fair to say we rode our luck a bit though. Toure hitting the post (props to Cech for a wonderful save) and City hitting the bar from a corner meant we were just a lick of paint away from this morning feeling very different, but perhaps we needed a little bit of fortune given the rut we’ve been in.
On went extra time and on went Arsenal and City and up popped Alexis. He does like a Wembley goal or two, doesn’t he? This one had all of the hallmarks of a poacher in the box and whilst Welbeck stuffed his attempt, Alexis didn’t need any telling and slid the ball home to be the difference once more.
As City poured forward I felt we could have had a couple more chances to kill the game, but Özil was a little wasteful and looked very dead on his feet towards the end, so I won’t hold it against him.
This was a win that could be pivotal. Like I’ve already mentioned, I said yesterday it could be season defining. What it certainly does do is give the team a massive injection of confidence for the rest of the season. I still think that given the games we have coming up, it will be difficult for us to get anywhere near a top four spot, but at least we’ve been given this boost to give us a chance. The players will go in to training feeling that little bit taller, they’ll be looking forward to the next game and they’ll certainly be up for Leicester on Wednesday now. We’ve seen players like Gabriel perform really well and I haven’t even mentioned the excellent Rob Holding yet. 20 years old and he looks so composed on the ball. This formation is perfect for his development and we need to see him string together a number of first team appearances now to see if he can remain as composed as he has been.
We’ve finally got a bit of light at the end of the tunnel after such a period where everything looked a little bleak. Kudos to the players and the manager for giving us that yesterday.
It’s a happy Monday for Gooners everywhere. Let’s enjoy it.