Arsenal booked their place in the FA Cup final for a record 20th time after they earned a hard-fought 2-1 win over Manchester City in the semi-final stage over the weekend.
The Gunners were deemed underdogs for the Cup encounter, but Arsene Wenger’s side delivered the goods following their excellent adaptation to the new 3-4-2-1 setup.
Pep Guardiola would not have expected a tougher start to his Citizens reign after the Gunners condemned him to a first-ever trophyless season in his managerial career.
Here are a couple of things we learned;
Arsenal must keep hold of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain:
The England international has shone in the Gunners shirt over the past couple of months, and it was not a surprise that he was the best player on the pitch for the vast part of the semi-final.
Down to a Sergio Aguero goal in the second half, the Ox showed his pace from the right wing-back position as he provided a killer cross to Nacho Monreal who levelled things up with a sublime right-footed volley.
The former Southampton graduate continued to run the game over both Leroy Sane and Gael Clichy on the right side of the pitch and this truly earned him the man of the match.
The Ox will have just a year remaining on his contract in the summer, and the Gunners appear to have begun negotiations over a potential £100,000-a-week deal in order to prolong his stay.
Petr Cech on the decline:
Former Czech international Petr Cech had a mixed game against the Citizens on Sunday. A poor pass from Aaron Ramsey had allowed Yaya Toure to pinpoint a long ball to Sergio Aguero, whose heavy touch, should have seen him miss out on goal.
However, the veteran shot-stopper paused on his run, and this eventually cost his side dear with the opening goal, which did not go well with some of the club’s faithful. Cech did manage to make amends for his mistake after his brilliant fingertip kept out a Toure attempt in the final stages of normal time.
This is not the first time, Cech has hesitated, and it appears to have become a trend with his blunder against former club Chelsea being a notable highlight. With Cech on the decline, and Ospina still uncertain over the future, the Gunners could well move for a new number one in the summer.
Claudio Bravo likewise:
The Chile international was expected to bring a sense of calmness to the Citizens defence when he first arrived from Barcelona in the summer of 2016. However, the shot-stopper has done the exact opposite with the play-from-the-back not entirely favouring his abilities.
Bravo has managed several blunders over the course of the campaign, and it was a little surprise that he earned the nod over Wilfredo Caballero for the Cup encounter. The Chilean was largely cautious from set-pieces from the opposition while he was also lucky to have survived a slip which nearly handed Alexis Sanchez the opening goal of the game.
With Joe Hart likely to return from his loan spell at Torino, it will be interesting to see whether Pep would favour the Englishman regardless of his lesser footwork with the ball.
Sergio Aguero proves his worth:
The South American footballer had started the season as the Citizens’ first-choice striker before Pep decided to offer a young Gabriel Jesus his position in January. However, the Brazilian’ stint in the first XI did not last for long as he sustained a metatarsal injury which he still has to recover from.
Aguero has since taken his opportunity with both hands after having scored 12 goals in 13 outings, but this has not fully convinced Pep that he is the right man for the job.
The Catalan tactician is said to want a player with an all-round game, and Aguero’s defensive awareness is something which has been questioned over the course of the season. Whether Aguero remains at the Etihad or not, he continues to prove Pep wrong through his impressive touch in front of goal.
Arsenal have got a gem in Rob Holding:
The 21-year-old had a baptism by fire in the Premier League opener when Liverpool tore the Gunners backline to shreds to attain a 4-3 victory at the Emirates. Since then, he has largely played backup to the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny until Wenger recently changed to his three-at-the-back formation.
With Mustafi out injured, Holding has adapted well in the middle of a three-man defence, and his performance against the Citizens is likely to have earned admirers at a glance. The England under-21 international proved to be a commanding presence beside Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny, and this kept the Citizens’ attack at bay for most of the game.
Signed for just £2m from Bolton Wanderers last summer, the Gunners may have got themselves an excellent bargain owing to his impressive form over the past week. Whether he maintains his level or not, it is yet to be seen.