Starting XI: Cech, Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xhaka, Ramsey, Monreal, Alexis, Ozil, Giroud
Subs: Martinez, Bellerin, Gibbs, Coquelin, Walcott, Iwobi, Welbeck
Arsenal’s season is not yet over!
The Gunners will face Chelsea in the 2017 FA Cup final after fighting back from behind to beat Manchester City after extra time courtesy of Alexis Sanchez’s winner.
Pep Guardiola’s men took the lead in the second half courtesy of Sergio Aguero’s breakaway goal but a fantastic finish by Nacho Monreal after great work by Oxlade-Chamberlain levelled things.
Alexis then pounced in the box in the 101st minute to seal a much deserved victory that temporarily eases the pressure on boss Arsene Wenger.
Seemingly encouraged by the win against Middlesbrough on Monday night Arsene Wenger opted to stick with the much talked about 3-5-2 formation.
Rob Holding retained his place alongside Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny in the centre of defence charged with placating the threat of Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero who were all in Manchester City’s starting line-up.
As you’d expect from a Pep Guardiola side, City were quick to dominate possession. A snap shot from De Bruyne on 2 minutes signalled their attacking intent while a few minutes later Laurent Koscielny had to be alert to steal the ball from Aguero chasing a through ball from Silva.
The Gunners, appearing in an FA Cup semi-final for a record 29th time, took a while to settle. Giroud’s header from Chamberlain’s cross was cause for optimism, however, within seconds Silva tested Cech with a header of his own. The Wembley atmosphere simmered.
Great feet from Mesut Ozil forced a foul from Vincent Kompany out on the right flank. The resulting free-kick was initially cleared but returned into the box by Giroud where Koscielny found the back of the net. Offside. Correct decision.
Silva was forced off with a knee injury following an early collision with Gabriel. Raheem Sterling came on for the Spaniard and volleyed wide from the edge of the box within moments.
City continued to dominate in midfield. The Gunners sat back in numbers. Did Chamberlain foul Aguero in the box? Referee Craig Pawson said no. It was clumsy for sure but looked accidental despite the Argentine’s vigorous calls for a penalty. The Ox was more decisive stopping a break to the byline by Sane.
On the bench, Wenger – sporting sweater, shirt and red tie – sat cross-armed looking pensive. Sanchez, booked for a foul on Fernandinho, beckoned his teammates forward, trying to encourage a higher press from the midfield.
City continued to force the issue. Aguero hit the side netting on 37 minutes then City put the ball in the back of the net. Up went the flag from assistant referee Steve Child who judged Sane’s cross in the build-up to be out of play before Sterling’s effort crossed the line. Replays were inconclusive but it was a let-off for the Gunners all the same. Guardiola looked aggrieved.
The men in black continued to be at the centre of the action. Not long before half time Alexis went down under pressure from Jesus Navas as he chased an Ozil free-kick at the back post. Nothing given. Again.
The dribbling feet of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis saw Arsenal start the second period on the front foot, encouraging the 35,000 Gooners in the terraces. Chances came and went for Ottamendi -a header from a De Bruyne corner – and Xhaka – a tepid shot from a short free-kick.
Keeper Bravo, with the ball at his feet, teased Giroud and then Alexis. He evaded both men on separate occasions. Just.
Despite Arsenal looking the better side at this point it was City who broke the deadlock with a devastating counter-attack on 62 minutes. Wenger’s men had been building play high up the pitch but when Ramsey lost the ball on the edge of the City box, the Citizens sprung into action. Yaya Toure played a long ball to Aguero who, leaving Monreal for dead, surged goalwards. Cech raced out to narrow the angle but was left stranded as the Argentine coolly dinked the ball over him. (1-0)
Ozil spun on a sixpence and flashed a low effort wide with his left foot as the dejected Gunners tried to find a quick equaliser. With 19 minutes remaining they were rewarded.
Unsurprisingly, the brilliant Oxlade-Chamberlain, thriving as a right wing-back, played a vital role. Careering down the flank, he cut in and delivered a wonderful swinging ball to the back post where Nacho Monreal smashed home on the volley. It was a tremendous finish from the Spaniard – his first goal of the season – and he celebrated with gusto, grabbing the cornrowed substitute Bellerin for a hug on the touchline (1-1)
The game flowed from end to end as both sides sought a winner with tiring legs. Somehow Petr Cech clawed an acrobatic Toure effort onto the post, Ozil looked like he’d sprung the City defence but was slowed, then Fernandinho crashed a header onto the bar. It was gut-wrenching for both sets of fans.
On came Welbeck for Giroud. His fresh legs skipped past Ottamendi, he shaped to pass but curled just wide. Spare for a pass, Alexis and Ramsey were left furious. It was the last serious effort of the 90 minutes. With three minutes of stoppage time signalled, the tempo dropped. Into extra time.
1st half ET
A quick team talk, cramp defying stretches, some high fives, a couple of hugs and, in the blink of an eye, back to the action.
The chances continued to fall to Arsenal. Welbeck and Sanchez had efforts blocked and from the resulting corner Holding headed over. He should have scored. Oh Rob!
Guardiola reacted quickly by removing Fernandinho and Aguero, putting on Fernando and Delph and moving De Bruyne into the centre forward position.
Arsenal had the momentum and when Kompany took out Welbeck, the Gunners finally made a set piece count. Ozil’s ball to the back post came bouncing back into the six-yard box where Alexis Sanchez took at touch and rammed home past Bravo. Ecstasy for everyone wearing red. (2-1)
Back came City. Sterling tried to pick out a man and Holding, making up for his earlier miss, nicked the ball around the post. On came Bellerin with his dodgy barnet. Off went Chamberlain to a deserved standing ovation, On came Bellerin with his dodgy barnet. The Spaniard was straight into the action linking up with Ozil who picked out Welbeck. How did he head wide from there? He was a yard out.
The half ended with Granit Xhaka, booked for a clash with Delph, calling for more noise from the Gooner contingent in the stadium.
2nd half ET
Guardiola made use of the extra substitute allowed in extra time, sending on Kelechi Iheanacho for Sterling. Brilliant defending by Bellerin denied Delph whose shot was deflected into the side netting with Cech beaten. City fans thought it was in.
Desperate to defend their lead Arsenal couldn’t help but fall deeper into their own half. It invited pressure. De Bruyne’s cross shot went inches wide. More gasps from the crowd.
Could Arsenal snatch another goal on the break? Twice Ozil had chances to create opportunities, twice his legs failed him. Nothing for it but to sub him off. On came Francis Coquelin with just 90 seconds on the clock.
Tick, tock. Tick tock. More brave defending. And then victory – sweet, sweet victory!
What a win for the Gunners, a real match to savour. Now we’ve got to repeat the feat against title favourites Chelsea. Can we do it? Who knows with this team, but it’s something to look forward to. That’s for sure.
Over and out. Up the Arsenal!