Arsenal are in the FA Cup Final. Manchester City will rail against the injustice of it all and, in particular, a ‘goal’ by Sergio Aguero that waswrongly disallowed while they also struck the woodwork twice and missed a host of chances.
Arsenal dug deep – as so often they have failed to do – and showed immense spirit as they came from behind with goals by Nacho Monreal and, in extra-time, Alexis Sanchez.
They will meet Chelsea in the final with an unlikely chance of another trophy for Arsene Wenger in a season of such frustration and doubt. Maybe now that contract announcement will be made even if he will not qualify for the Champions League.
For Pep Guardiola a first campaign in which so much was expected will end with a fight to stay in the top four and nothing more. No trophy. Not this year. And that has to represent failure just as Wenger is not expected to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.
The last thing everyone expected was a game littered by fouls – some cynical – with chances at a premium. But that is what unfolded until the encounter opened up gloriously, chaotically and end-to-end in the second-half.
Before that it had been completely dominated by City. Both sides, nevertheless, had penalty claims. Both sides also had ‘goals’ disallowed – with the refusal of City’s strike the one that should have stood.
It came as assistant referee Steve Child deemed that Leroy Sane’s cross had gone out of play but the whole of the ball had not – how could he be sure? – before Aguero volleyed goalwards. Petr Cech beat it out and substitute Raheem Sterling turned in the rebound but it was chalked off. It should have been given. It should have been Aguero’s goal.
The striker also felt he should have had a penalty when the otherwise impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tangled with him but that was less defined as Aguero also clipped his own heels and, maybe, the benefit of doubt should have gone to the Arsenal man as he was attempting to get out of the way and the level of contact was not clear.
But it added to City’s sense of frustration and injustice which had been fuelled when David Silva – who had been prominent – was forced off after a clumsy challenge by Gabriel which referee Craig Pawson did not deem worthy of a caution. Having not yellow-carded Gabriel, Pawson then made it difficult for himself as a number of other challenges went unpunished including one by Jesus Navas, attempting to stop Sanchez from reaching a free-kick which Arsenal claimed should have been a penalty and could also have been given.
The only one of the four major first-half incidents which was indisputable was that Koscielny was offside when he volleyed past Claudio Bravo in a rare foray forward by Arsenal who were almost overwhelmed by City. The possession ratio was 70:30 but it felt even more as Arsenal were forced deep and failed to get any kind of foot-hold.
They continued with the three at the back but it was effectively five with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Monreal forced ever deeper although, finally, into the second-half Arsenal began to provide a sustained threat of their own and Granit Xhaka was presented with an opportunity when a free-kick was squared to him, unmarked and with City defending deep, only to shoot weakly.
At the other end and Nicolas Otamendi had a free header from a corner, but planted it wastefully wide before he made a vital block City almost gifted Arsenal the lead as Fernandinho carelessly lost the ball inside his own area and it appeared Olivier Giroud would have the chance to shoot. Otamendi covered.
Finally there was a breakthrough with Arsenal also needlessly losing the ball, on the edge of the City area, through Aaron Ramsey with Yaya Toure intercepting and lifting a pass forward for Aguero who was suddenly in a foot race with Monreal from inside his own half. There was only one winner in that contest although Aguero appeared to then push the ball too far ahead – only for Cech to hesitate and the striker to lift his shot past him for his 12th goal in 12 appearances.
It seemed that would be decisive but there was redemption for Monreal with another poor concession from Arsenal as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s superb deep cross allowed to run to the wing-back, who was not tracked, and he smartly volleyed the ball home from close-range at the far post. It was his first goal in two years.
City responded and it appeared Toure was set to restore their lead but, this time, there was redemption for Cech who tipped his bouncing volley, from outside the area, against the post. City struck the frame of the goal again – this time Fernandinho rising high to meet Kevin De Bruyne’s corner only for his header to cannon back off the cross-bar.
Arsenal then went close with substitute Danny Welbeck breaking clear of Otamendi only for his curling shot to flash narrowly past the far post – when maybe he should have squared it to Sanchez or crossed for Ramsey. They both were better options.
Arsenal also claimed the first opportunity of extra-rime with Rob Holding heading onto the roof of the net from a corner. And it was from another corner that they scored with Koscielny heading the ball back across goal, Welbeck taking a swipe at it before Sanchez pounced ahead of Gael Clichy to sweep his shot past Bravo. Welbeck could have settled it but headed wide.
It gave City a chance and they should have taken it when they broke three on two only for substitute Fabian Delph’s shot to be deflected into the side-netting. From the corner another replacement – City’s fourth, permitted in the later rounds of the FA Cup – headed wide when he again should have done better. But Arsenal held on and had their extraordinary win.