David Luiz keeps out the Man City hordes, while Martinez stands guard
Who remembers playing “next goal wins” as a schoolboy?
You’d be playing footy with a bunch of other urchins in the street or in the back garden or on the local playground. It was getting on to dark and most kids knew they were due home for their tea soon.
Invariably someone would say “next goal wins.” It would really piss me off. There were so many times when my team was winning something like 27–16 and the other lot would score the “next goal” and claim victory.
This manner of victory was not in the Football Association rulebook, or in the Marquis of Queensbury code. It would doubtless cut little ice at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But there was a certain moral weight to this playground Darwinism: what had gone before didn’t matter – “next goal wins” was the only measure by which to judge the victor because it was the most recent register of superiority.
By the rules of the playground, Arsenal are now the best team in England.
A week ago Liverpool were the best team, Manchester City were the second best. Now we’ve beaten them both so it stands to reason, doesn’t it? We must be England’s best!
What a game. What a performance. What a result.
The commentators said that some bookies were giving 8-1 odds on Arsenal beating City at Wembley. I hope plenty of Gooners took the bait and gave those flash bar stewards a nasty cold bath.
You will find, if you look back at yesterday’s pre-match, that I predicted a win for the boys in red and white.
Admittedly I thought we’d win by the odd goal and only after extra time, but I had a strong feeling that the FA Cup loves Arsenal and that we would prevail.
El Patron made several changes to the team that started against Liverpool on Wednesday night. Torreira, Saka, Nelson and Holding were out, as well as the cup tied Soares. In came Bellerin, Mustafi, Ceballos, Maitland-Niles and Aubameyang.
For the first 20 minutes we could barely get a kick and whenever we gained possession we treated the ball as if it was covered in a massive viral load of coronavirus.
But, one or two minor aberrations aside, we defended diligently and City, for all their possession and pressing, created little.
Then we woke up. David Luiz played a lovely ball through the centre of the park to pick out Aubameyang, who stayed a yard ahead of the defenders as he bore down on goal. You’d have put your shirt on him scoring, but you’d have been walking home bareback. Instead of passing the ball either side of the ‘keeper Auba fired it straight at him.
I immediately thought “we can’t pass up opportunities like that”. But we didn’t have to wait long for Auba to make amends. A lovely move involving 10 Arsenal players found Pepe on the right wing. He played a perfect cross to the back post where Auba came steaming in and contrived a terrific finish with the outside of his boot.
We threatened again before the break and could easily have gone in 2-0 up.
Unsurprisingly, City came out more determined in the second half and we seemed to realise as a team that we’d need a backs-to-the-wall defence with no room for passengers. To the great credit of Arteta and the players he sent out, there were no passengers. Everyone played their part in an outstanding effort.
At one point it was starting to feel inevitable that we would crack. I sent a Whatsapp message to my son (watching in Canada) to say “we either need to get some extended possession or we need a breakaway goal.”
I’m no prophet, but I got lucky with that call because within 60 seconds we were 2-0 up thanks to a great breakaway. Tierney and Pepe did excellent work down out left flank, the former releasing Aubameyang who nutmegged Ederson for the goal.
By this stage 71 minutes had been played and I doubt whether, even at 2-0, any Arsenal supporter felt the result was in the bag.
Sure enough, City came at us in waves of attacks. But everything they threw at us was met by the most committed Arsenal defending I have seen for years. You might almost have thought it was George Graham on the touchline, not Arteta.
Martinez, in another dominant goalkeeping performance, made a great low stop from Mahrez; Laporte fired a powerful shot just wide; Sterling had a chance inside our six yard box… but we kept them out.
The seven minutes of extra time added palpitations to this Gunner’s heart, but we saw it though.
Luiz was a monster, throwing himself into blocks like a Winterburn; Mustafi battled for every scrap; Tierney was magnificent; Bellerin had the right flank sewn up; Xhaka played a perfect game and Ceballos was outstanding.
So now we’re off to yet another Cup Final against either Chelsea or Man Utd. Neither will be easy, but who would bet against us now?
Martinez – 9
Gets better and better. A truly dominant performance.
Bellerin – 8
One misplaced pass early on which put us in trouble, but completely reliable thereafter.
Mustafi – 8
Back to the form he was showing prior to the Totteringham game. It was sad to see him go off late on with what looks like a hamstring injury.
Luiz – 9 MoTM
A splendid centre half performance. He won everything in the air, completed tackles and blocks and used the ball really well to set up attacks.
Tierney – 8
Such a cool head on those young shoulders. A real Mr Reliable.
Maitland-Niles – 7.5
Outstanding “compete level” on the defensive end, including some terrific one on one defending against Du Bruyne. Had several great opportunities to set up team-mates in goal scoring positions but his crossing with his left foot let him down.
Xhaka – 9
Close call for MoTM. Perfect positioning and reading of the game, particularly in the second half as we stifled City’s waves of attacks.
Ceballos – 8
Whatever magic Arteta has worked on him, it’s certainly impressive. He’s a talented, committed and creative player who was really grown into the rough and tumble of English football.
Pepe – 7
Involved in both goals. Still loses possession a little too easily for me.
Lacazette – 8
No goal, but a typically hard working outing for Laca.
Aubameyang – 8.5
His goals take us to the Cup Final. Two beauties, and he’ll be kicking himself it wasn’t a hat trick.
Willock – 8
Worked hard and did well disrupting City’s attacks.
Torreira – 8
Holding – 7
On late but added to the cause.
Kolasinac – 7