Did you know we could win a trophy this season? With all the drama since the turn of the year, our progression through the FA Cup has escaped attention. We could well be careering toward a dark and depressing end to the season, but the FA Cup may be a small light at the end of this tunnel. We just have to get there first.
How We Got Here
If we’re being fair, our run to the semi-final wasn’t the most glamorous. Preston, Southampton, Sutton and Lincoln hardly represent the most challenging of runs, and had we been drawn with a better team we may not have made it this far. But, here we are in our third FA Cup semi-final in the last four years.
In an ideal world, everyone goes into this game on the same side. The allure of a cup final should overwhelm any personal feelings toward the manager and the current state of the team, if only for 90 minutes. The win over Middlesbrough last Monday cleared the air somewhat. We’re not heading into the game on the back of a defeat, there was no repeat of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt”, fans chanted Bellerin’s name and the post-game celebrations were much more positive, if not a bit overdone.
Arsenal will need every advantage they can get to overcome Manchester City. The two teams played out a frantic 2-2 draw just three weeks ago in a game that perfectly summed up what both teams are about. But Arsenal can’t just count on City’s defensive frailties showing up. Guardiola will have learned from that game and will be determined to prevent his team’s intensity dropping as it did at the Emirates, especially with the stakes much higher.
3-4-3 again?
The big talking point from Monday night was Arsenal’s use of a 3-4-3 in what Wenger described as an attempt to solidify the defence. Wenger said the formation was an “option” in Thursday’s press conference but stopped short at confirming it one way or another.
If Arsenal do use the formation again on Sunday, they can be sure that City will give it a far more rigorous test than Middlesbrough did. Boro’s direct approach played into the hands of Arsenal’s back three, whereas City’s pacey wing play can drag it out of position. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling thrive on the space between full-back and centre-back and could find plenty of it if Arsenal’s wing backs are too high up the pitch.
On the other hand, the addition central defender may help Arsenal retain the ball under City’s press. Arsenal will miss Mustafi’s positivity on the ball, but Rob Holding is a competent ballplayer. The wing backs finding space and providing good crosses in the box could also trouble City’s backline, and test Sterling and Sane’s defensive discipline.
Given how new the formation is to Arsenal, using it in such a big game would be a brave move. With a succession of big games to come, though, it could be a good opportunity to test it out against better opposition. Transitioning into a back four shouldn’t be too difficult if the back three doesn’t work out.
Team News
Shkodran Mustafi has been ruled out, while Danny Welbeck will have a late test to prove his fitness. Ospina and Lucas remain out. Jeff Reine-Adelaide, a regular in this year’s FA Cup for Arsenal, is out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.
Manchester City welcomed captain Vincent Kompany back in their game against Southampton. John Stones missed that game but could be fit for Sunday. Gabriel Jesus has returned to training following a foot injury but is unlikely to make the squad.
Predicted line-ups:
Arsenal (3-4-3):
Cech; Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Monreal; Ozil, Alexis; Giroud
Manchester City (4-1-4-1):
Bravo; Navas, Stones, Kompany, Clichy; Fernandinho; Sterling, De Bruyne, Silva, Sane; Aguero
A big game usually spells danger for Arsenal, but a good recent record in FA Cup games and against Manchester City should give them confidence. The potential formation change is yet another variable to consider. I feel both teams will play out an open and entertaining 1-1 draw that could go all the way to penalties.