FACUP: GUNNERS BACK TO THEIR BEST! ELIMINATE MANCITY AT WEMBLEY 2-1

If this was one of Alexis Sanchez’s last meaningful acts in the famous red and white shirt, it may be the one that keeps Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager next season.

The club want a reason to keep him, and here it is. A swing at a third FA Cup victory in four years; the opportunity to make history, as the only man to win the tournament seven times; and evidence of meaningful evolution at Arsenal this season, with the new back three formation.

When the final whistle blew, Wenger pumped both fists, looked to the sky and roared. He knew this was big. He knew this was necessary. If this season is to be the first out of that precious top four since 1996, he needed to put down a marker. Facing Chelsea in the final game of the domestic season on May 27 could be it.

Arsenal (3-4-3): Cech 6.5, Gabriel 8.5, Koscielny 9, Holding 8.5, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8.5 (Bellerin 115, 6.5), Ramsey 6.5, Xhaka 6.5, Monrea 7.5, Ozil 7 (Coquelin 118), Sanchez 7, Giroud 6 (Welbeck 83, 6.5)

Subs not used: Martinez, Gibbs, Walcott, Iwobi

Goals: Monreal 71, Sanchez 101

Booked: Xhaka, Sanchez

Manager: Arsene Wenger 8

Man City (4-2-3-1): Bravo 5, Jesus Navas 6, Kompany 7, Otamendi 7, Clichy 6.5, Toure 8.5, Fernandinho 8.5 (Fernando 99, 6), De Bruyne 6.5, Silva 5 (Sterling 23, 6.5) (Iheanacho 116, 6 ), Sane 7.5, Aguero 7.5 (Delph 99, 6)

Subs not used: Caballero, Zabaleta, Kolarov

Goals: Aguero 62

Booked: Otamendi, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Sane, Delph

Manager: Pep Guardiola 6.5

Referee: Craig Pawson

Attendance: 85, 725

Man of the match: Koscielny

If this was one of Alexis Sanchez’s last meaningful acts in the famous red and white shirt, it may be the one that keeps Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager next season.
The club want a reason to keep him, and here it is. A swing at a third FA Cup victory in four years; the opportunity to make history, as the only man to win the tournament seven times; and evidence of meaningful evolution at Arsenal this season, with the new back three formation.

When the final whistle blew, Wenger pumped both fists, looked to the sky and roared. He knew this was big. He knew this was necessary. If this season is to be the first out of that precious top four since 1996, he needed to put down a marker. Facing Chelsea in the final game of the domestic season on May 27 could be it.

Chelsea may be chasing the Double by then, just as Arsenal were when the teams last met in an FA Cup final, in 2002. That year Arsenal won 2-0, wrapping up the title the following week – this year they could be cast as spoilers, Antonio Conte the bright, new broom manager that Wenger was then.

Yet if this performance said anything it was that you’re never too old to learn; or, in Wenger’s case, change. Whether a back three was something he was always considering, or felt pressured to introduce, really does not matter right now. It worked, that much is clear, restricting Manchester City to a single goal, scored from a second-half breakaway.

That, by the end, City were depleted by injuries – most crucially to David Silva and Sergio Aguero – clearly made a difference. For much of the game, probably the first 80 minutes of it, they had the best chances, taking the lead and hitting the woodwork twice. Yet how many times have we seen Arsenal dominate, only to lose; and how many times have we praised the cussedness and determination of their opponents in those circumstances?

On Sunday, Arsenal demonstrated precisely those traits – hanging in there when City were on top, scoring an excellent equaliser against the run of play, finding a way through in extra time as the opposition tired. They defended well, too, the back three efficient and single-minded, the wing-backs combining superbly for the equaliser.

These were testing circumstances against one of the strongest attacking teams in the country and Arsenal were rarely on top. Yet, with 101 minutes gone, Sanchez conjured a scruffy, if instinctive, winner. It came from a Mesut Ozil free-kick, headed down by captain Laurent Koscielny.

Danny Welbeck took a swing and missed, but so did Gael Clichy, who had a chance to repel Arsenal, before Sanchez proved too quick for Vincent Kompany, taking the ball off his toes with his first touch, finishing from close range with his second.

City, by then, were stretched. Kelechi Iheanacho became the first fourth substitute to be used in FA Cup history, coming on for Raheem Sterling in extra time, as per the new rule – but it made no difference. Confounding those critics who doubt their resilience – and they are not small in number – Arsenal left nothing out there. City will be exhausted with four days to go before a defining Manchester derby.

That Arsenal got to extra time at all was something of an achievement, though. At the time when Nacho Monreal pulled them level, Wenger’s team looked to be flagging. It was further vindication for the new three-man defensive system with both wing-backs part of the goal.

City led for just nine minutes before Arsenal equalised. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up the ball on the right flank. He hadn’t been getting forward as much as he did in his new position against Middlesbrough last week, but this made up for it. His deep cross flew over the head of Olivier Giroud, but was read perfectly by Monreal. He drove hard to the far post, meeting the ball sweetly first time with a low shot that left Claudio Bravo no chance.

Arsenal were back in it, having looked out of it when Aguero scored. It had been a sucker punch of a goal, but not undeserved. Aaron Ramsey was at fault initially, losing the ball on the edge of City’s area, allowing Yaya Toure to bring it out and float a lovely long pass upfield for Aguero to chase.

The wisdom of leaving a striker on a run of 11 goals in as many games with only one sentry is open to question, certainly when Aguero outstripped Monreal in his chase for goal. He got lucky, first by missing his controlling touch, which allowed the ball to run on, rather than slow him down, then with a heavy touch when he did reach it, confounding Petr Cech who did not know whether to try to intercept or stay in place.

Caught in two minds, Aguero simply chipped it by him, Lionel Messi-style.

It looked like City’s game from there and could have been, had two second-half chances gone in. Toure hit the post, Fernandinho the bar; while Arsenal also had late opportunities in normal time through Welbeck and the excellent Rob Holding.

Just as well the game built to its crescendo however, as after the exceptional meeting of Chelsea and Tottenham on Saturday, the first-half here was something of a disappointment. Plenty of fouls, not much else, and one big call by the officials, which was wrong. Rather unsatisfactory.

Manchester City left the field at half-time carping in the ear of referee Craig Pawson, and with some reason. He had disallowed a good goal, waved away a decent penalty shout and was rather lenient towards some heavy tackling by Arsenal.

The poor call came from linesman Steve Child, who wrongly flagged a Leroy Sane cross out of play. Aguero met it with a shot that was blocked on the line by Cech, Sterling netted the rebound. The margins were tiny, but then Child should not have flagged without being certain. Against this, Arsenal will argue that their defenders had stopped playing by the time Sterling converted, so there could be no guarantee he would have scored. Either way, it was a mess.

The penalty area foul by Oxlade-Chamberlain on Aguero in the 29th minute was less certain, but it did look as if the Arsenal man clipped him before Aguero fell over his own feet.

As for Arsenal’s physicality, Gabriel’s early hit on Silva saw Manchester City’s playmaker limp out of the game after 22 minutes. He would be a big miss against United, with Champions League football be at stake, this already being Pep Guardiola’s first season without a trophy.

CULLED from dailymail

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