Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s brace saw Arsenal come away with a 2-0 victory over Manchester City, seeing the Gunners secure a place in the FA Cup final for the fourth time in just seven years.
Despite missing a big opportunity early on, hitting a shot straight at goalkeeper Ederson, Aubameyang slotted home a harder chance with 19 minutes on the clock, latching on to the end of an excellent Nicolas Pepe cross, finishing off an 18 pass move.
Arsenal finished the first half the better team, and it could be argued they should have been further in front. However, City piled the pressure on in the second half and for large periods of the game, Arsenal couldn’t get out of their own half.
Despite this, Arsenal were clinical on the counter attack, with an accurate Kieran Tierney pass putting Aubameyang through, who slotted home his second of the evening. Arsenal’s defence then held out, similarly to how they did against Liverpool, and secured a huge result that will see them play either Chelsea or Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
It was a defensive and counter attacking masterclass from Mikel Arteta against his former employers, with the Citizens having just one shot on target in the whole game, making Arsenal the first team to restrict City to this number of attempts on target since they lost 3-0 to Liverpool in the Champions League on 4th April 2018.
This was also the first time Pep Guardiola’s side had less than two shots on target in a domestic competition since they drew 0-0 with Stoke City in the Premier League on 8th March 2017. So how did Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side manage to come away with a win that no one saw coming?
Something Arsenal did almost faultlessly last night was to stop City’s main route to scoring, which is done through cut backs. This is when the ball is out wide with a fullback or winger and is crossed low into a central area of the box, normally between the defence and midfield.
However, Arsenal’s defending of this was exemplary. The gap between the defenders and midfielders was almost non existent all game, as the defence stayed narrow and compact throughout. Whilst City’s forwards are trying to find space in the Arsenal box so they can be found by a cross, there isn’t any.
In the second half, when they were under more pressure, the Gunners reverted to a 5-3-2 formation, from a 5-2-3 when Pepe was on the pitch, in order to add more numbers to help out defensively.
Number eight, Dani Ceballos, is staying tight to one attacking midfielder David Silva, whilst number 34, Granit Xhaka, is keeping an eye on the other Kevin De Bruyne. With these two being marked, it then gives Arsenal a significant 5 vs 3 advantage with City’s front three against their defenders.
The 5-3-2 formation is also very helpful in dealing with City’s overlapping wide players. Joe Willock is marking Raheem Sterling in this example whilst number two, Hector Bellerin, is dealing with Benjamin Mendy. If Mendy plays Sterling in behind Bellerin, then Willock will be there to deal with it, and Shkodran Mustafi will also be able to help cover.
Arsenal’s system worked like clockwork, with any attack down the other side being the same, except the midfielders would just slide across one position. Xhaka would be watching the overlap, Ceballos would be marking De Bruyne and Willock would be marking Silva.
Overall, this was one of the best defensive displays I can remember from an Arsenal side. The performance reminded me of our last 2-0 win against Manchester City, which was at the Etihad in 2015, where the Gunners were clinical on the counter attack and restricted the Citizens to only a few opportunities.
Arsenal were superb going forward too, especially in the first half, playing quick and incisive football whilst also creating a few opportunities from pressing the City backline. Thankfully, the Gunners didn’t find themselves cursing these missed opportunities, such as Aubameyang failing to find Nicolas Pepe after an Ederson pass was intercepted.
However, this game was yet another example of how much Arteta has improved Arsenal in his short time at the club. Their defensive organisation was spot on and, when they did attack, they pushed forward with confidence and purpose.
The victory means Arsenal have a second opportunity to get into the Europa League next season, with qualification through the league not in their hands. However, even if they don’t have European football at the Emirates to look forward to, a lot of courage will have been taken from Arteta’s time at the club that it will be very possible the season after.