Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta outmanoeuvred his mentor Pep Guardiola as the Gunners reached the FA Cup final with victory at Wembley.
Arteta, who left his job as Manchester City assistant manager to succeed Unai Emery at Arsenal in December, now has a chance to mark his first season in charge with major silverware when they face Chelsea or Manchester United in the final on 1 August.
The match-winner was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the world-class striker Arsenal are desperate to secure on a new long-term contract, as he ruthlessly exposed City’s defensive deficiencies.
Aubameyang had already shot straight at Ederson with one clear chance but there was no escape for City after 19 minutes when he showed great technique to steer home Nicolas Pepe’s cross with the outside of his foot at the far post.
City dominated possession after the break but squandered their opportunities and Aubameyang made them pay once more in the 71st minute when he raced away on the angle to slide a composed finish under the keeper.
Aubameyang shows importance to Gunners
This was a personal triumph for Arteta and completes a superb week after the victory over Premier League champions Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
And there was so much to admire about Arsenal’s willingness to adopt a courageous gameplan, happy to patiently keep possession – often in their own area – with one such passage of play leading to Aubameyang’s opener.
As against Liverpool, Arsenal were well-organised and resilient at the back, willing to throw bodies on the line to repel the wave of City attacks in the second half as the holders tried to hold on to the FA Cup.
David Luiz had the sort of nightmare many believed would end his Arsenal career when they played City in their first post-lockdown game at Etihad Stadium, making a mistake leading to a goal then being sent off after conceding a penalty.
This was the other side of the maverick Brazilian defender, a rock at the heart of Arsenal’s defence and a central figure in this victory.
The spearhead, however, was the 31-year-old Gabon striker Aubameyang, who was a huge threat throughout and illustrated exactly why he is among the game’s elite group of strikers.
An ever-present menace, his two finishes were of the highest quality and demonstrated his big-match temperament.
This is why Arsenal are so keen to get his signature on a lucrative new deal – and why they will have a chance of winning the FA Cup no matter who they face in the final.
Man City’s flaws exposed
Manchester City rightly receive plaudits for their classic purist style – but there is a faultline running through this team that manager Guardiola simply must address.
This is a side that can defeat anyone but also has a soft centre that makes them eminently beatable – there is a reason why they have lost nine times in the Premier League this season.
Guardiola’s side can be cut and carved open, as they were twice by Aubameyang here, and this must surely be central to their summer transfer activity.
As at Southampton recently, they had plenty of the ball after going behind but could not find a cutting edge. This is where master finisher Sergio Aguero is missed, especially as this was one of those rare occasions when Kevin de Bruyne’s radar was faulty.
City romped to a 6-0 victory in last season’s final against Watford, but there will be no repeat this year and that is because there are faults in this team that Arsenal – led by Arteta – were able to exploit.
Man of the match – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
‘An incredible week’ – what they said
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta to BBC Sport: “We’ve had an incredible week to beat the best two teams in Europe, it doesn’t happen every day.
“I don’t care who plays, I can trust them – we made changes and everyone was ready.
“We had to suffer in many moments. We had to be really well-organised and minimise the spaces.”
On seeing Pep Guardiola after the game: “I high-fived him after the game and wished him luck. I love him like yesterday or this morning the same way.”
On Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract talks: “Hopefully it will help him to be more convinced we are going in the right direction.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola to MOTD: “We didn’t make a good performance, we were not ready enough. If you don’t play for 90 minutes in a semi-final this can happen. We didn’t play good, we are human beings. The opponent played good, sometimes it happens.
“The only regret is that we didn’t play the first half like we played the second one. We had to change the set-up but we couldn’t do it.”
City’s cup run comes to an end – the stats
- Arsenal have reached the FA Cup final a record 21 times, with the Gunners also winning the competition more than any other side (13).
- Manchester City have been eliminated from a domestic cup tie (League Cup and FA Cup) for the first time since February 2018 (FA Cup 5th Round v Wigan), with this their 22nd such tie since that game.
- Arsenal have eliminated the holders of the FA Cup on each of the last six occasions they’ve faced them.
- All four of Arsenal’s shots in this match were on target – indeed they had more shots on target in this match than they’d had in their previous three meetings with Manchester City combined (3).
- Manchester City had just one shot on target in this match, their fewest in a game since April 2018 in the Champions League against Liverpool (0).
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the fourth Arsenal player to score a competitive brace at Wembley Stadium, after Reg Lewis (1950 FA Cup final), Charlie Nicholas (1987 League Cup final) and Alexis Sanchez (2015 FA Cup semi-final).
- Nicolas Pepe has been involved in 17 goals in all competitions for Arsenal this season (8 goals, 9 assists) – only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (27) has been involved in more.
Both sides return to Premier League action as City face Watford at Vicarage Road on Tuesday, 21 July (18:00 BST), before Arsenal travel to Aston Villa later that evening (20:15).