Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City was significant in itself, but could it have even wider implications for their future…
Reaching the FA Cup final in your first season as a manager might well be enough of an achievement for Mikel Arteta, but Arsenal’s victory over Manchester City at the weekend might have even greater significance for both the club and their manager.
It means that they have beaten the last two Premier League champions and the best two teams in the country in the space of a week, having defeated Liverpool on Wednesday. And this game being particularly significant in terms of the performance, rather than simply the result.
“It’s a really big moment for him as a manager,” said Michael Cox on the latest edition of the Totally Football Show. “The Liverpool win was slightly fortunate, and there were question marks about their motivation, but to beat Manchester City in an FA Cup semi-final was really impressive.”
Daniel Storey continued: “I think it’s a victory that is greater than its immediate impact. Arteta has made no secret of his demand to back him in the transfer market, and if Arsenal had fallen with a whimper to Liverpool and Manchester City, there might have been a sense in the Arsenal boardroom of “well, what’s the point? All we’re going to be playing for is this next season, so what’s the point in throwing £150million at it?”
“What Arsenal have now is a manager the fans trust implicitly, which they didn’t with Emery and they didn’t with Arsene Wenger in the last two years. It’s been a long time since this support were 100% behind a manager.
“Arteta now has that bargaining chip within the club to say “I’ve shown you what I can do by improving what I inherited, now give me a chance to put some shine on that, now give me a chance to improve the parts of the team that have some pretty obvious flaws in them and build something a little bit more special.”
So what went right for Arsenal at Wembley?
Adrian Clarke said: “Mikel Arteta is a strict disciplinarian: we’ve seen that with his treatment of Mateo Guendouzi and to a lesser extent Mesut Ozil. That was a big line in the sand. The players have full respect for him and are buying into his methods, and there was a real concentration and discipline in both performances.
“David Luiz had his ‘once a season’ performance – one of those displays that remind you why he’s had such a long career at the highest level. Kieran Tierney was exceptional. Granit Xhaka produced his best first-half ever in an Arsenal shirt.
“You have to go all the way back to March 2017 against Stoke to find a game where Manchester City only had one shot on target.”
The style of play was significant too, and Michael Cox suggested that the empty Wembley might have been a factor in Arsenal being able to play the way they did.
“It was significant that both goals came – in different ways – from being calm and patient when playing out from the back. I’ve written an article for The Athletic about their patience, and I contrasted it with the first game of Unai Emery’s reign, against Manchester City at the Emirates last year, where Arsenal tried to play out from the back early, it went wrong and the crowd were really getting on their backs.
“Eventually Petr Cech just hoofed it down the ground and the fans sarcastically cheered. I think the fact there were no fans there, after the early error where they played out, might have helped them. It’s easier to do that when you’re not surrounded by 90,000 fans.”
Both goals were scored by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the implications for his future might add even more significance to the result.
“Arteta referenced this afterwards, but this kind of special night might just persuade him to stick around and believe in the Arteta project. There’s no doubt he could get a club in the Champions League if he wants one, but the fans love him, Arteta clearly does, he’s the skipper, he’s got the chance to potentially be part of a resurrected Arsenal. They’ll be desperate for him to stay.”
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