Morning people. And what a good morning it is, because we’re waking up today knowing we’re into another FA Cup Final and, unbelievably, it was done by a performance which showed a level of grit and determination that Arsenal have rarely shown in modern times.
Yep, it was ‘backs to the wall’ Arsenal who beat a dominant and clearly more technically superior Man City team, to reach our 21st FA Cup final and give us a very real chance of finishing the season with silverware and also that Europa League place.
I don’t think any of us expected the kind of Herculean performance that those Arsenal players put in yesterday evening. It was a level of concentration, organisation and togetherness that Arsenal are often accused of completely lacking, but yesterday every single player had it in spades and they should be proud.
Arteta once again went with a back three but instead of Tierney as the left centre half and Saka as the marauding wing back, he choose Maitland-Niles to fill the position on the left and much like the rest of the team, the lad really stepped up.
It wasn’t all plain sailing from start to finish though, I think we can all admit that, and for the first 15 minutes we struggled to retain any possession, we couldn’t put together enough passes in the middle third and it felt like it might be a long night when Mustafi dwelt on the ball in his own box.
But we did manage to grow in confidence somewhat and even though the pattern of the whole game was City in possession, we were creating a lot more chances than in the Liverpool game. Lacazette has one offside, Aubameyang shot straight down the throat of Ederson, then goal number one arrived, and let’s have a moment to appreciate the elements in the goal itself:
– the build up from the back and composure from our defensive third to the edge of the City box looked calm and very deliberate
– the fact Bellerin was closer to Pepe to stop City isolating him and enable him to get his body shape into a good position for his cross
– the cross from Pepe to Auba was perfect
– the finish from Auba in off the post was masterful
It was a very, VERY, good team goal and I was a happy bunny watching it hit the net let me tell you.
So then you’re expecting a barrage and expecting City to pepper our goal. And yes, it was nervy and yes, they had some chances, but I don’t remember Martinez making save after save after save. Instead, what I do remember is Luiz nodding the ball away again and again. That was because we got our set up right against City. Arteta charged his team with not conceding the central part of the pitch with too much space. We compacted our midfield and defence and tucked in, forcing City to go out wide and put balls in, which Luiz dealt with again and again. And when City tried to force their way through us in the middle, the players threw bodies at the ball or congested the part of the pitch that normally allows DeBruyne and Silva to dictate.
It was a tactical masterclass by a Arteta and I for one am delighted to see it.
I’m also delighted that it came so close to the Liverpool result. We’ve seen the odd Arsenal display in which a performance like this has happened, but it’s usually once in a blue moon and rarely repeated. We went full ‘Gritty Arsenal’ two games in a row and inside a week, so I’m looking at some of these players and this manager and realising that we can indeed switch our approach depending on the opponent.
And that’s going to be important because whilst we can revel in such a good performance like yesterday, we have achieved nothing yet, because Europa League places are only given to teams who win the competition, so defeat to one of United or Chelski in a couple of weeks time could still mean no Europe next season. But let’s not worry about that too much just yet. Let’s revel in victory today.
Victory through harmony and the harmony amongst our players was there for all to see. Kieran Tierney is a sensational player and not only did he look fantastic as a left wing back, he’s nailing that left centre half slot too. His ball to Aubameyang for goal number two was sensational as well and let’s also give props to Pepe for keeping the ball alive and getting it to Tierney for the ball to Auba to secure the win.
But Auba. Ahh man. Cool as a cucumber. Cold as ice. Rolls Royce of a striker. When he’s in on goal and bearing down on the opposition ‘keeper, you know that nine times out of ten he’s going to slot it home. And to do it with a nutmeg? C’est Manifique. I’d love to say it settled my nerves but in truth it made me even more nervous, because all I could think was “hey, we could ACTUALLY do this now” and that meant for the longest 28 minutes of my life!
But hang on we did and the composure of those players to deliver such a performance with such character really does make you believe that Arteta has them singing from the same hymn sheet.
This season has been a horror show in the most part. But we have just three games left and it’s hard to believe there could be some joy at the end. I’m not counting my chickens just yet, but as I write today’s blog, I’m at least feeling more positive than I have in a long time.
Catch you all tomorrow.