Pep Guardiola has always admired Mikel Arteta’s “special talent to analyse what happens and find the solutions,” which the Arsenal manager displayed in statement effect to oversee a 2-0 FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City.
The protege landed a sizeable tactical punch on his mentor and underscored his impact on the north Londoners in a game that illustrated just how much fight, confidence and strategy he has implemented since taking charge in December.
There will few people more pleased for Arteta than his vanquished colleague, with Guardiola predicting his former assistant is “creating something unique” at Arsenal and “if he can be supported by the club in terms of investment, and get the players that they need, they’ll be a contender for the next years.”
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If the Gunners do not fully subscribe to and back their manager, it would be criminal oversight. With limited resources and the most thankless reconstruction job, Arteta has already tattooed so many good habits on the club. That has been evident in the past few months and was in full display at Wembley. They did not just beat Guardiola’s juggernaut, they did it by a margin much greater than the scoreline reflects.
As expected, City owned the ball in the opening exchanges with Arsenal reduced to blocking passing lanes. The Gunners did well to thieve possession, but dithered in it and lacked certainty or a clear idea of how to hurt their opponents. They’d recover the ball, only to give it back to City but on 16 minutes, there was finally some surety to accompany their fight.
David Luiz intercepted an awful Aymeric Laporte clearance, chesting down and driving into space before supplying a glorious defence-splitting pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The forward picked power instead of placement and send his effort straight at Ederson.
It was a very promising passage of play from Arsenal: direct and with purpose. Any fears they had wasted a rare opportunity to punish City was quickly eradicated when they pierced them again three minutes later, this time with old-school build-up play that had shades of the Arsenal way.
Aubameyang was still the target, but this time he steered a superb half volley past Ederson, which went in off the post.
There were 18 passes involved in Arsenal’s opener by 10 players, which included the impressive Kieran Tierney beating the press and finding Alexandre Lacazette. He moved the ball on towards Hector Bellerin, who sent it out wide to Nicolas Pepe to provide a curling cross that was met at the far post by Aubameyang.
Arsenal were ahead, and in truth, should have gone into the break with a greater cushion. Laporte was fortunate to escape with another error not being turned into profit by Arteta’s side, before Ederson was also relieved that his shanked clearance couldn’t be worked to Pepe by Aubameyang.
After an uncertain start, Arsenal could have been 3-0 to the good. They had three shots on target in the opening 40 minutes – as many as they had managed in their three previous meetings with City combined. Moreover, they had stifled Guardiola’s men, not allowing them to enjoy any kind of rhythm and reducing them to zero efforts on target in the first 45.
City upped their offensive aggression at the start of the second period, but Raheem Sterling could only direct Kevin De Bruyne’s ball across the box just wide. Riyad Mahrez twisted Ainsley Maitland-Niles to cut inside, but was thwarted by a strong Emiliano Martinez hand. De Bruyne evaded the wall with a free-kick, but could only navigate it into the side netting.
With City pushing for an equaliser, Arsenal had chances to increase their comfort in the game, but their final pass was a fail after fail. That is until Tierney sprinkled some more brilliance on the encounter. It was his pass that sparked the first goal and he found Pepe with a long ball up the left from deep for the second.
Arsenal’s record signing held it up on the halfway line, a with Tierney supporting him and then hitting a delightful first-time slider to release Aubameyang. The striker ruthlessly slotted his strike between Ederson’s legs to put Arsenal 2-0 up – a scoreline which flattered City.
Arteta has infused so much into this squad already, including the ability to soak up pressure with every sinew – as was seen against Liverpool and again here at Wembley. Or as Guardiola put it in his pre-match assessment: “What I see in their games, how they celebrate, how they fight for every single ball, they are creating something special for this club. Everybody fights for each other.”
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