Sanchez strikes to send Arse­nal past City into fi­nal

Wenger’s side show grit to see off City and set up Chelsea clash in the fi­nal Guardi­ola faces his first sea­son with­out a tro­phy since en­ter­ing man­age­ment

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - DANIEL TAY­LOR at Wem­b­ley

It has not been an easy sea­son for Arsène Wenger by any mea­sure but it will at least have the pos­si­bil­ity of a happy end­ing and, once again, he can look for­ward to an FA Cup fi­nal.

It will be the eighth of his 20 years at Arse­nal and it is prob­a­bly worth re­mem­ber­ing, amid all the crit­i­cism that comes his way, that he has won six of the pre­vi­ous seven.

Wenger is also out­num­ber­ing Manch­ester City, who have won the com­pe­ti­tion five times, and the fact it will be Arse­nal tak­ing on Chelsea on May 27th amounts to a personal or­deal for Pep Guardi­ola given what it means for his first sea­son in charge of Manch­ester City.

Guardi­ola’s team can­not even be guar­an­teed a place in the Cham­pi­ons League next sea­son, with Thurs­day’s en­counter with Manch­ester United looking in­creas­ingly im­por­tant, and his dis­ap­point­ment will be ex­ac­er­bated by the way this semi-fi­nal un­folded.

Break­away goal

His team had led, af­ter 62 min­utes, through Ser­gio Agüero’s break­away goal and at 1-1, there was a three-minute spell when City hit the wood­work twice, first through Yaya Touré’s vol­ley and then Fer­nand­inho’s header, but Arse­nal also de­serve im­mense credit for turn­ing the game up­side down once Nacho Mon­real had drawn them level.

Arse­nal’s com­pet­i­tive courage has been ques­tioned all sea­son but not on this oc­ca­sion. They rode their luck at times but they also recog­nised there were im­per­fec­tions in City’s de­fence and, 11 min­utes into the first pe­riod of ex­tra time, the ball was at Alexis Sánchez’s feet i ns i de t he penalt y area. Sánchez was quick, alert and clin­i­cal, fir­ing in the goal that will mean an all-Lon­don fi­nal.

It was a pul­sat­ing semi but, for City, it was also one laced with con­tro­versy and they will leave Wem­b­ley with a sense of in­jus­tice be­cause of the in­ci­dent, five min­utes be­fore half-time, when they were de­nied a goal be­cause of a trig­ger-happy lines­man.

Kevin De Bruyne had slightly over­hit his pass, but Leroy Sané did well to reach the ball be­fore it went out for a goal-kick. From that po­si­tion, it was a lovely cross he arched to­wards the far post and, though it was a mat­ter of mil­lime­tres, the tele­vi­sion re­plays con­firmed that the ball had stayed in play.

Agüero’s shot was scram­bled away by Petr Cech, be­hind the goalline, and Ra­heem Ster­ling made sure from the re­bound be­fore City’s cel­e­bra­tions were cut short as the as­sis­tant ref­eree, Steve Child, had al­ready raised his flag, mis­tak­enly think­ing the ball had gone out of play from Sané’s cross.

That was far from the only con­tentious in­ci­dent and City’s com­plaints will also take in an­other mo­ment in the first half when Agüero went down in the penalty area with Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain in close prox­im­ity. Arse­nal will ar­gue, in turn, they could have had a penalty of their own af­ter Sánchez claimed he had been im­peded by Jesús Navas.

It was a dif­fi­cult af­ter­noon for the ref­eree, Craig Paw­son, and his as­sis­tants and it also hin­dered City that David Silva had been forced off early on with an in­jury that demon­strated just how im­por­tant the Spa­niard is to his team. Silva was in­censed about the chal­lenge from Gabriel Paulista that led to his with­drawal and the game be­came more evenly con­tested once he had left the pitch.

It was not un­til the early part of the sec­ond half, how­ever, that Arse­nal had their first sus­tained pe­riod of pres­sure and the para­dox is that was the pe­riod when Agüero ran away to open the scor­ing.

Arse­nal’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to the quick, in­ci­sive counter-at­tack has been a fea­ture all sea­son and on this oc­ca­sion it needed only one pass once Aaron Ram­sey had lost the ball to Touré close to the City penalty area. Touré,suc ha bril­liant big-game player, aimed the ball 40 yards up­field and Agüero had the speed and di­rect­ness to get away from Mon­real. Cech was slow to re­act af­ter a slightly heavy touch from Agüero and the Ar­gen­tinian pun­ished him by flick­ing the ball past him.

Af­ter that, a dif­fer­ent team than City might have at­tempted to close the game down. That, how­ever, is not the way Guardi­ola’s side op­er­ate and Arse­nal, af­ter a cau­tious first half, had started to play with much less res­traint.

Wing backs

Close anal­y­sis of their new 3-4-2-1 sys­tem should also note that it was one wing-back who cre­ated the equaliser and an­other who scored it. Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain’s cross cre­ated the dan­ger and Mon­real chose a good time to score his first goal of the sea­son, driv­ing in a low right-footed vol­ley.

Both sides could have won the match from that point on­wards but the de­ci­sive mo­ment came from Sánchez, alert as al­ways, af­ter Lau­rent Ko­scielny had headed Me­sut Özil’ s free-kick across the penalty area. The sub­sti­tute Danny Wel­beck had the next touch and then it was left to Sánchez, nip­ping in be­tween Gaël Clichy and Vin­cent Kom­pany, to de­liver the telling blow.

PHOTOGRAPH: DAR­REN STA­PLES/ LIVEPIC/REUTERS

Arse­nal’s Alexis Sanchez scores the win­ning goal as Manch­ester City’s Vin­cent Kom­pany lunges for the ball

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