Arsenal 2, Manchester City 1 (aet)
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger praised his team’s resilience after they put a turbulent spell behind them with a gutsy extra-time victory over Manchester City to reach the FA Cup final.
The Gunners had to come from behind at Wembley, having trailed to Sergio Aguero’s breakaway goal, but Nacho Monreal’s volley took the match beyond 90 minutes and Alexis Sanchez poached a scrappy, precious winner.
It was by far Arsenal’s brightest moment in a bruising three-month period of miserable form, internecine conflict and fan protest that has left Wenger’s hopes of extending his 21-year stay in limbo.
“It was a big test for us today. It was a mental test because many people questioned: can we turn up in an occasion like that? That’s why I am very proud for the players, because they showed they are united and determined,” said Wenger.
“We have gone through a very difficult period and we faced some adversity that made the situation more difficult from inside as well. But we’ve shown a united response, not a divided response, but of course, mentally we were in a fragile position.”
Victory set up a final against Premier League leaders Chelsea on 27 May – a match that could see Wenger become the most decorated manager in FA Cup history in what may be his last match in charge of Arsenal.
City manager Pep Guardiola, however, has already been condemned to a first ever season without silverware, though he vowed that his team would improve in his second campaign.
“We will improve next season. We will be strong,” said Guardiola. “I always did in my life and I always will do in the rest of my life to be better, and that is all. That is what I want to do.”
Arsenal rode their luck, especially in the first half when Aguero had a penalty appeal ignored and the officials disallowed a City goal in the incorrect belief that the ball had drifted momentarily out of play.
A cautious Gunners side took a bolder approach after half-time but they were punished in the 62nd minute when Aguero hared onto Yaya Toure’s early ball, out-sprinted Monreal and dinked over Petr Cech.
Mesut Ozil briefly enlivened a tepid display with a spin and shot as Arsenal stirred, but it was the unlikely figure of Monreal who levelled with a nonchalant far-post volley from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross.
Both teams went close before the 90 minutes elapsed: Toure’s hooked volley hit the post via a fingertip save from Cech, while substitute Danny Welbeck cut in and whipped a rising shot just wide.
Sanchez decided an increasingly febrile contest in the 101st minute, pouncing to prod in from close range after Welbeck had swung at Laurent Koscielny’s knock-down.