Unless you are a diehard Wenger-Out Campaigner, you will have liked that win as much as I did. It was not pretty; in fact, it was humbling. The manager and team sacrificed style and reputation for attitude and result, and they delivered. It was a weird, schizophrenic sort of experience: Citeh played like the old Arsenal: better and more dominant football but leaving new Wembley empty-handed with nothing else left then finishing in the top four. Guardiola will be philosophical about and he can afford to do so, given that it is only his first season at Man City. But for Arsene this was about survival: avoiding humiliation and fighting tooth and nail to get through to the final.
I was critical about starting with a 3-4-3 formation but it somehow did the trick. We kept our shape well when pressed back, and when we captured the ball we were regularly able to escape the press. Giroud was not really into the game and neither were Alexis and Ozil, but as a team we kept fighting and, helped by a few dollops of luck, we somehow got there. Luck is such a big factor in a game and yesterday we enjoyed a lot of it: they hit the woodwork twice and the ball bounced back kindly; and they also had a goal disallowed that could easily have stood. Yet, I feel in footballing terms, we had the better chances in the second half and in extra time. There was something about this game that told us we would end up victoriously, and indeed we did. Maybe it was because our players were more hungry, or should that read desperate?
It was a true team performance and the likes of Nacho, Gabriel and Koz fought like their lives depended on it. In midfield, Xhaka was the organiser and excellent reader of the game and Rambo the connector. The Ox added verve from the flanks and, in my view, played his best game in an Arsenal shirt yesterday. What really made the difference was the introduction of Welbeck. Giroud tried hard but he lacked strength and was well-marshalled by the MC CBs. Welbeck was wasteful with his chances and opportunities to play in others, but his energy and mobility was too much for our opponents. To me he made all the difference without playing anywhere near his best.
Player Ratings (excluding subs):
Cech: 8 – made it too easy for Aguero for their goal but his fingertip save from Toure’s stunning effort on goal was superb
Ox: 8 – great going forward and not bad defensively – he was regularly an outlet and took on the MC midfielders and defenders time and again
Holding: 8 – calm head and reads the game well, with excellent positioning and good distribution of the ball
Koz: 8 – mean and energetic – fine captain
Gabriel: 8.5 – attitude, grit, aggression but also intelligence and calm – best performance in an Arsenal shirt by him until now
Nacho: 9 – gives his all and scored a potentially season-defining goal – just loves to score against Mancs in the FA Cup
Xhaka: 9 – quickly growing into the pivotal player in midfield. The team should use him more to get the full value out of him, but that was a fab performance nevertheless.
Rambo: 8.5 – it takes Aaron a while to get going but the Rambo Royce engine is purring again, and when he does those box to box runs he adds value everywhere. Superb second half
Ozil: 7.5 – always making good runs and looking for a key pass, but he lacked sharpness at times
Alexis: 8 – an extra half point for the composure for the goal, and he worked hard again. His passing is too predictable and inaccurate and I don’t rate his wing play, but he keeps scoring the important goals and that goes a long way in football.
Giroud: 7 – This was not his day but he also was left too much isolated up-front by the likes of Ozil and Alexis.
Wenger: 10 – turned a tentative team performance in the first half into a more confident and dominating performance in the second half and then again in extra time.