Alexis Sanchez’s scrambled extra-time winner secured Arsenal an FA Cup final date with Chelsea – and ensured Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will end a season without a trophy for the first time in his coaching career.
Sanchez settled a contentious semi-final 11 minutes into the extra period after Manchester City failed to clear Mesut Ozil’s free-kick.
Arsenal showed great resilience – and eased the pressure on manager Arsene Wenger – to come from behind after Sergio Aguero raced clear of Nacho Monreal to put City ahead in the 62nd minute.
Monreal made amends with the equaliser 11 minutes later as he drilled in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross at the far post – but City were left nursing a serious sense of injustice after this disappointing defeat.
They had a goal wrongly ruled out in the first half when Leroy Sane’s cross was adjudged to have gone out before Aguero and Raheem Sterling combined to turn it into the net, while Yaya Toure and Fernandinho hit the woodwork after the break.
It left Arsenal victorious and Wenger aiming for a record seventh FA Cup triumph.
Arsene Wenger’s future – and the lack of clarity surrounding it – has only been brought into sharper focus by Arsenal’s recent fall outside the Champions League places.
Wenger needed a statement, as did his team, to ease the growing disquiet among Arsenal fans at the prospect that he will extend his stay as manager.
Arsenal’s Wembley win against Manchester City will not ease the concerns in the minds of the doubters but he can point to the victory, and the manner in which it was achieved, as evidence that he could yet be the man to take the club forward.
Victory in the final on 27 May would strengthen his and Arsenal’s case for continuity, but for now there was much for the Frenchman and his players to treasure about this triumph.
Wenger persisted with an unfamiliar three-man defensive system comprising youngster Rob Holding, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny and set up his team to deliver an uncharacteristically stubborn performance.
Arsenal rode their luck at times – but Wenger will take that all day.
Wenger’s players have been accused of not playing for him in recent months. No such accusation could be levelled here as they dug deep for victory.
The Gunners’ embattled manager pumped his fists towards the skies at the final whistle and beamed with delight – he may yet achieve glory amid the worst discontent of his reign.