Maybe there is life in Arsene Wenger yet. Armed with a new formation, a new approach and renewed vigour, Arsenal enjoyed a rare win against one of their biggest rivals in one of the biggest games of the season. With a final against Chelsea now established in the diary, Wenger finds himself just one game away from a record seventh FA Cup. A man condemned as being stuck in the past might not be finished writing history yet.
It has been a fractious few months at Arsenal, but with the club's supporters jubilant in the stands, their red livery glowing in the Wembley sun, all was briefly right again at a troubled club. Wenger was visibly relaxed as he addressed the press.
When you see today the stands and how big this club is, I just feel happy when our fans go home happy. We have gone through a very difficult period and we faced some adversity which made the situation more difficult, from inside as well, but we have shown a united response, not a divided response. Mentally we were in a fragile position.
Arsenal needed a moment like this to heal wounds and provide even temporary respite from the internecine warfare ripping at the club’s fabric. The league situation remains perilous but on Sunday, at least, all their supporters went home happy after defeating City in extra-time of a thrilling, if fractious and disjointed FA Cup semi-final. And while Arsenal needed some luck - Yaya Toure and Fernandinho both hitting the woodwork at 1-1 and Raheem Sterling having a perfectly good goal disallowed - ultimately this was a victory of Wenger’s own design. There have been too few of late.
Maybe it was the pressure placed on him by the fans, and by those inside his own club, which forced Wenger to tactically buckle. Deploying a three-man defence in Monday’s 2-1 win over Middlesbrough, his first use of such a system since 1997, had a hint of a PR stunt about it, a strategy to counter the narrative of Wenger being tactically entrenched and incapable of change. But against City, the new approach was confirmed. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis had made a few eyebrows raise with talk of recent defeats being a “catalyst for change”, and rather than being the victim of that change, Wenger has sought to embrace the concept himself.
It was brave to go into a match against the deep-thinking Guardiola with a formative formation which hadn’t entirely convinced against Boro. “We spoke about what we should do with that system,” said Guardiola, but nevertheless it defeated him and it defeated City. A defence which had been crumbling is now back on its feet, fortified by an extra body. At Wembley, Gabriel Paulista had his best performance of the season playing alongside Laurent Koscielny and the composed Rob Holding, and the two new wing-backs combined for the equaliser as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, man of the match for the second game in a row, crossed for Nacho Monreal to volley home.
Admittedly, it was hardly a perfect deployment. All three centre-backs were completely absent when City scored their opener. Aaron Ramsey lost possession in the attacking third and when Yaya Toure launched the ball downfield, only Monreal was anywhere near Sergio Aguero. The striker’s poor touch gave Petr Cech a chance but the keeper rebuffed it as he fatally hesitated, allowing Aguero to slot it home. City also saw Cech tip a Toure volley onto the post and Fernandinho clatter a header onto the bar as Arsenal held on.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Wenger shows flexibility fans have been craving... but is it too late?