With the blow of the referee’s whistle for full time, Arsenal made it to their 20th FA Cup final, courtesy of goals from Alexis Sanchez and Nacho Monreal after extra time. There were three big beneficiaries due to the return of the back three for Arsene Wenger’s side, all of which were necessary to make it to an unprecedented third Wembley visit this season, due next month. Let’s take a look at the trio of positives that came out from an enticing game versus the Citizens:
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain
For all the talk about Kylian Mbappe, Arsenal have their own version of a teenage beast in the side, and one who is growing into a better player with each passing game, albeit defensively.
Deployed on the right hand side of a midfield four with more defensive duties than going forward, the ‘Ox’ was solid as ever. Leroy Sane has been a thorn for Arsenal this season, having scored twice in two games against them. It was important to prevent him from making that a hattrick today.
READ MORE: Sanchez sends Arsenal to FA Cup final
Chamberlain was up to that task and kept the tricky German at bay for most of the game and even found enough chances to burn him for speed at the other end and provide for Giroud consistently. It was his supply of good crosses which got the equaliser for the Gunners, a deep one at that, getting his opposite side winger to come in and volley in for the goal.
It is now critical to keep playing him in that role to make sure he finally lives upto his potential as well as truly substantiate this change of formation. For the time till Wenger sticks to a back three, his preference of Chamberlain over Bellerin is one to be consistent as well.
In case it has not been clear, I really like Rob Holding. The manner in which he plays is something you don’t see in defenders these days, and especially not with the ones at Arsenal.
A shift to three centre backs has meant Holding’s reinstatement into the team, with him preferred over Gabriel on the left, while neither really has a left foot. It is a statement towards his intelligence in defence as well as his calmness on the ball.
For two consecutive games now, he has kept his cool under strenuous circumstances and is truly marking down his number for future recalls into the first team. Even today, in the semi final vs City, he was solid at his job and had a good chance to win the game in the latter stages.
Two Englishmen doing really well together in an Arsenal side has not been seen for a while now. And given the fact that they’re pulling off good victories while they are at it, Le Professeur would be wise to keep them both in the starting XI till the end of the season.
The Arsenal midfield
After losing their main midfield man for the season for a second year running, the Gunners have been flapping about with different combinations in the middle of the pitch. None of the used combos of Ramsey-Xhaka, Xhaka-Coquelin, Coquelin-Ramsey, etc, have really worked out.
With the switch to 3-4-2-1, there is no longer a need for two baseline defensive midfielders. This allows the centre of the park to be both dynamic as well as acceptably crowded. Ramsey and Xhaka no longer look alienated and find it easier to reach Alexis and Ozil who are the main creators in this formation.
Santi Cazorla’s absence is still visible in this team, but this new midfield can and is working out simply because of division of labour. No man is left to do all the dirty work on his own and no one man is responsible for making things happen all the time.
It’s balance that has been missing from Arsenal all season and no matter how difficult the odds maybe for a third FA Cup in four years, the derby game vs Chelsea suddenly looks to be more than an even contest come May end.