Tuesday, July 5, 2022

FA Cup semi-final preview: Arsenal v Man City

It’s FA Cup semi-final day!

Well, to be more precise, it’s the morning of the day in which we play the FA Cup semi-final in the evening. Wembley will be decked out in banners and seat coverings which showcase our incredible history in this competition, but sadly no fans of either side will be able to attend for obvious reasons.

What an intriguing game is promises to be though. On paper, Man City are obviously the clear favourites. They are better than we are, they have better players than we do, they have a manager who has vast experience and won it all, and they have lots and lots of money while we’re currently scratching down the back of the sofa looking for lint covered 20p pieces to see what we can do that windfall.

However, we played a game on Wednesday night against a team who are currently better than Man City and came away with a win. Now, playing the way we did against Liverpool is no kind of blueprint. Even acknowledging their superiority, I suspect Mikel Arteta’s game-plan was for us to have the ball with a little more frequency, and I’d be flabbergasted if we won two games in a row having been bettered by the opposition. The chances of that are very slim.

It makes me wonder if Mikel Arteta is going to unleash a tactical how-do-you-do today. Over the last few games we’ve seen him introduce some variance in how we’re set-up, and our shape in and out of possession seems a bit more fluid. For me, the big lesson of the Liverpool game was how their extra man in midfield made life so difficult for us when we had the ball, and City playing three in midfield – an an exceptionally good three too – might require us to counter that at the expense of a defender.

Early in his Arsenal reign, the manager played with a back four, but used Granit Xhaka in an interesting way. He’d sort of slot in as a left sided centre-half at times, so perhaps that’s something he could do while using Lucas Torreira and Dani Ceballos in the engine room too. It feels like it’s something which probably works better against slightly less assured opponents, but then that’s true of most things. Whatever system or formation he choose to deploy, City’s quality is going to make this game very challenging indeed.

Arteta obviously knows his opposite number very well, having spent years working with Pep Guardiola. The Master vs Apprentice element of this adds another little bit of spice to proceedings. Will our manager try and second guess theirs? I don’t think City need to be clever tactically, because they’re a settled side who know what their manager wants. For us it’s a bit different because we are the underdogs, we have to try and nulliify their many threats as well as we can, and still try and find a way to hurt them.

It’s worth remembering that in the game at the Etihad at the start of the restart, we played a back four, and while the result didn’t go our way, we were hit with two significant injuries inside the first few minutes, and one of those games from David Luiz. We also had a couple of chances in that first period to create genuine danger via the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Both times the player who could have made the incisive pass didn’t see it, but perhaps that could be put down to a lack of sharpness given it was our first game in over three months.

It’s a big if, of course, but should such an opportunity present itself again we do have the quality to cause their defence some problems. As Arteta said before the game:

Like any other team, they have some weaknesses as you mentioned and as well, it’s about stopping their strengths, which they have a lot of.

There is nobody more aware of their strengths and weaknesses than Arteta. Whether he can do enough to deal with the former and exploit the latter remains to be seen, and while the odds on Arsenal making the final are long, you just never know with cup football. It could be one of those days where everything goes right for us and we go through. I don’t need to tell you it could be just the opposite, but hopefully the players are buoyed by the win over Liverpool and understand what an occasion this is.

It’s also a genuine opportunity. This has been such a bizarre, surreal, crazy season in the annals of this football club. Even leaving aside the Covid-19 stuff, what has happened on and off the pitch has been genuinely nuts at times. It almost feels like it merits some kind of unlikely ending, and winning an actual trophy would certainly fit into that category. I don’t really see it happening, but this game and this club can surprise you, so let’s hope they do that this evening.

Predicted team: Martinez, Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney, Xhaka, Torreira, Ceballos, Aubameyang, Saka, Lacazette

As ever, you can follow the game on our live blog, and check out reports, reaction, player ratings and more on Arseblog News. Catch you later on for the game, and I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast to get into your ears.

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