After the final whistle
Yesterday was a wonderful day to be at Wembley. I can leave aside, for now, the annoying fact of the semi-final being played there and just revel in the atmosphere generated by the Arsenal supporters and players yesterday. The absence of many season ticket holders, and I will assume the vast majority of the absentees are the same who leave their own seats empty at Ashburton Grove on a regular basis, saw a lot of Silver and Red members get the chance to go and see Arsenal in a big Wembley occasion. I really believe that made a difference to the nature of support given to the players yesterday. Every fan seemed to be determined to back the players, and Arsene Wenger, on the day and the players responded in kind with their best performance since we beat Chelsea back near the start of the season.
For the first 30 minutes or so Arsenal seemed very content to let City have the ball and we packed back in defence with no real attacking ambition, save for the occasions when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got the ball and ran at the City defence. In fairness, for all their possession of the football I felt City were very similar to us in the way they went back and sideways across the pitch in search of an opening. In Aguero they have the threat that we don't when Giroud plays but we were mostly comfortable. The goal they had disallowed was obviously a real stroke of luck for us. I was directly over the goal-line in the front row of the top tier and said straight away that the ball hadn't gone out. Goals change games, and that may well have been a problem for Arsenal. At the same time we went up the other end and should have had a clear penalty when Alexis was hauled down by Navas as he tried to get on the end of a free-kick. There was another one in the second-half when Monreal was basically climbed all over having got in to the box down the left, a stone-wall penalty denied. Swings and roundabouts so the "hard done by" articles in almost every paper today are indicative of the selective minds of the current football writers where Arsenal are concerned. For the last ten minutes of the first-half Arsenal got on top and I was encouraged at half-time that we could do City some damage.
After half-time I thought Arsenal absolutely dominated the game and City were rocking. A look at their back-four should really tell us they are no better than we are defensively - Navas, Kompany, Otamendi and Clichy is frankly a defence just waiting to be dismantled. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the best player on the pitch yesterday and Clichy simply couldn't handle him. With Gabriel mopping up anything behind Ox (the Brazilian most certainly had his best game for Arsenal yesterday) we were dominant down our right. Xhaka matched up very well against Toure and De Bruyne in midfield, which was just as well given Ramsey's inability to contribute (at least he was trying though) and Ozil who is simply scared of anyone from the opposition going anywhere near him. We were well on top when we conceded the goal to Aguero. Ramsey ridiculously tried to take on Toure when he simply had to play the ball in to the penalty area, while Monreal was inexplicably left all alone against Sergio Aguero on the halfway line. Even then the goal should have been stopped but Cech had forgotten his zimmer-frame and failed to take advantage of a slight mis-control from the Argentinian, only to see himself beaten by a wonderful finish. That was the only time, really, that we saw Aguero all game. Gabriel, Koscielny and, perhaps most praise worthy of all, Rob Holding played him really well. Holding is superb with the ball at his feet and really should have been scoring the match-winning goal himself in extra-time when he headed marginally over the bar. There is no way Mustafi should be getting back in this side any time soon.
Our equaliser was a stunning goal. It will never get noted as being special because it was a close-range finish from Monreal. However, just look at the quality involved in the goal. The cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain was stunning, taking out the entire defence and the goalkeeper. Monreal, impressive throughout, made up great ground to find himself on the end of things. As for the finish it was simply stunning. Monreal is demonstrably a left-footed player yet he took the cross from Ox first time, on the volley, with his right-foot and slammed it in to the net. It was absolutely what Arsenal deserved for their second-half display. Thereafter we sat off them a bit, relying on Welbeck and Alexis to use their pace on the break and that allowed City to have some more of the play up to full-time. Again we rode our luck as they hit the post (wonderful save from Cech rolling back the years) and the bar, but a goal for them would have been an injustice based on the play. Welbeck also had the chance to win it and he chose to shoot narrowly wide instead of rolling it to the unmarked Alexis Sanchez who was arriving at speed.
In extra-time Arsene Wenger made a very important tactical change and put Alexis in the centre and Welbeck on the wing. It made a huge difference, as it did all season up to Christmas. We got the second goal thanks largely to Welbeck's willingness to work so hard for the team. He won the ball back in City's half to give us possession, then won us a free-kick when fouled by Kompany. It was his (unfortunately all too regular) mis-kick when he should have scored that saw Alexis get a great foot in to take the ball in to his path, and away from the defender, and then finish beautifully in to the bottom corner. The Arsenal end went absolutely mental when he scored that goal with the deafening kind of noise that you only seem to get at Wembley.
We were rarely in genuine trouble from then on. Arsenal should have wrapped things up on more than one occasion, each of them involving some really pathetic football from Mesut Ozil. With Welbeck and Alexis out-pacing the City defence it was criminal that a player of Ozil's ability failed to provide the killer moment, choosing instead to simply fall over and stay on the ground instead of working as hard as everyone around him. The only moment of genuine danger came when Ramsey again gave the ball away badly on the halfway line and Delph seemed a certain scorer before a charging Bellerin somehow got a toe to his shot and deflected it past the post.
The last couple of minutes were notable for the wall of noise from the flag-waving Gooners at our end of the pitch. The final whistle greeted with as much glee as you would expect for an FA Cup semi-final. The photo of Arsene Wenger at the end really shows how much it meant to him, especially after what has gone on in recent weeks. Yesterday the old man got everything spot-on and credit is due for that. If you blame him so much, as I do, when it all goes wrong then you have to praise him when it all goes right as it did yesterday. The effort from the players yesterday was everything that has been missing for so long from this Arsenal team. Now they have to finish this season in strong fashion, get to Wembley for the Final in good order, and hopefully send Arsene away from the Club with another FA Cup under his arm. It would be a perfect ending in the circumstances.