For all of Arsenal’s failings as a club over the last 15 years, the FA Cup still remains the one venue where the Gunners tend to shine. Arsene Wenger, even in his waning years as manager, was the FA Cup whisperer, guiding Arsenal to 7 of their record 13 FA Cup titles. Even as the club is currently a far cry from their previous FA Cup winning iterations, the chance for a trophy is still very much alive with only one match left between them and the final.
No matter how the cards fell, Arsenal were always going to have a tough matchup in the semis. Unfortunately, they picked perhaps the one team that they didn’t want to play: Manchester City. No other team has been as dominant against Arsenal in the past several seasons like City has - Arsenal have not beaten them in the league since 2015 and have lost all but one league match in that span. The lone victory for the Gunners against the Citizens was in the FA Cup semifinals in 2017 in Pep Guardiola’s first season as manager, which feels like a lifetime ago.
We don’t really need to revisit the disastrous match against City at the beginning of Project Restart, but necessity dictates otherwise. Arsenal were bad that day, but the series of unfortunate events that transpired were too much for even the greatest of managers to overcome, with early injuries and a David Luiz disasterclass gifting City three easy points. If anything is certain, it will be that Mikel Arteta will want to make up for the last match to prove that the gulf between Arsenal and City is not as large as the final scoreline indicated.
Arsenal’s midweek shock win against Liverpool has given Gunner fans a lifeline of hope. Arsenal capitalized on a series of mistakes by the Premier League champions and weather a tremendous Liverpool attack to leave the Emirates with a rare win against the champions and, more importantly, a renewed sense of confidence. Everyone, including us here at The Short Fuse, had written Arsenal off in that match, and they repaid us with a scrappy smash-and-grab victory. The nerve!
City, however, have been on a tear since the restart, winning 7 of 9 matches, including a 4-0 drubbing of Liverpool, and 5-0 smashings of Newcastle and Brighton. They are currently on a 15 match winning spree that started before everything came to a grinding halt in March, and have outscored their opponents 39-4 in that span. To top it all off, their Champions League ban for FFP violations was overturned on Monday, which dealt a death blow to Arsenal’s slim chances of sneaking into a Champions League spot with a 5th place finish. The rich, as they say, get richer.
Arteta has leaned heavily on a 3-4-3 formation since the defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion, and there is no reason to believe he will deviate from that course with how successful it has been. The lineup should be one we are mostly familiar with after Arteta retested several key starters against Liverpool. With any hope, Arteta will field the same back three that he started against, as Rob Holding was rock solid and kept Sadio Mane in check after his early goal and Kieran Tierney pocketed Mohammed Salah for the majority of the match. Even David Luiz looked competent, which was refreshing considering his form against Top 4 teams this season.
Besides the longterm injuries, Eddie Nketiah misses out, serving the final ban of his three match ban, and Cedric Soares is cup-tied to Southampton in the FA Cup. Luckily, Alexandre Lacazette has rediscovered his form, scoring three in his last four appearances. If he, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Nicolas Pepe can all put in focused performances, there might be a chance the Gunners can eke out a result.
There is no sugar coating it - Arsenal are walking headlong into a buzzsaw of a team. For Arsenal to win, they will need a lot of things to go right and perhaps find a little more of the magic that guided them to a victory over Liverpool. But if there is one type of magic the Gunners can typically count on, its FA Cup magic.
Arsenal - Martinez, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Manchester City - Ederson, Walker, Garcia, Laporte, Mendy, Gundogan, David Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling
How we line-up in tonight's semi-final!— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 18, 2020
XI | Ederson, Walker, Garcia, Laporte, Mendy, Gundogan, D Silva (C), De Bruyne, Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling.
Subs | Carson, Stones, Zinchenko, Bernardo, Rodrigo, Fernandinho, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden.
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Manchester City
WHERE: Wembley Stadium
WHEN: 11:45 PM PT | 2:45 PM ET | 7:45 PM BT
US TV: Streaming on ESPN+.
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