Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal resilience thrills Wenger

Arsenal 2 Man City 1 (After extra-time)

By Olawale Kuponipe

Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal's FA Cup semi-final triumph over Manchester City proved doubters wrong over their big-game credentials.

Despite a rugged first-half display, the Gunners fell behind thanks to Sergio Aguero's second-half strike, but showed resilience and responded through Nacho Monreal's equaliser before Alexis Sanchez booked their place in next month's final in extra-time.

In arguably Arsenal's biggest game of the season, Wenger's men dug deep and fought for the victory, something the Frenchman applauded.

The Gunners boss said: "I felt it was a big test for us today, a mental test because many people question if we can turn up on an occasion like this and that's why I'm very proud of the players because they stayed united and determined.

"We had a strong response today, we had a little bit of a cautious start, hesitant sometimes, but we didn't give chances away and we grew into the game and slowly we became better and better.

"In the second half, we were very strong and in extra-time very strong. We always looked solid and dangerous because we played more in the second half.

"I want them (the players) to enjoy playing together and to play for the club. That is, for me, the most important thing and to reach the targets we set together.

"Football is a team sport, and as a manager, the biggest joy is when you feel like you have a real team performance, that was the case today and that's why I'm happy today.

"You know I feel the club is in a very strong shape, and that we have a very strong overall situation and a very strong team, we have shown that today and for me, that is the most important.

"One day I will leave anyway so the most important thing is that Arsenal will always be a great club that everybody admires."

Premier League defeats at Liverpool, West Brom and Crystal Palace prompted Wenger to change his formation and use a 3-5-2 set-up. Victory at Middlesbrough followed and the Frenchman believes tactical alterations were needed in order to restore stability, not due to pressure from the fans.

Wenger added: "No matter what you do, even if you get it right at some stage, people say 'why didn't you do it earlier? So it's like the opposite is right as well, if you get your starting line-up wrong, you change it at half-time, people will say 'see he is a tactical magician,' because he changed the team at half-time, but they forget that he got it wrong at the start.

"You can always judge it on both ways, but I think what I did is just to give a bit more security to a team who conceded three goals in the last three away games at West Brom, at Liverpool, at Crystal Palace. And at some stage you need to focus on something for the players which creates some confidence.

"I had it in mind. First of all that we won the game (Boro game) and the team got its confidence back and after, when you analyse the game again, you look where did we suffer? Were we good? How does Man City play? Where do they play through? And can we cope with that? And to me it was positive enough to try today."

City manager Pep Guardiola failed to understand how Raheem Sterling's goal was ruled out but insists his side will become a stronger team next season.

Sterling smashed home a rebound off Petr Cech in the first-half - but the ball was ruled to have drifted out of play beforehand from Leroy Sane's cross. Replays suggested the linesman made the wrong call, which left the Spaniard bemused by the decision.

"The linesman could not see that situation," Guardiola said. "And to see that ball you have to be in line and when you are four or five metres away you cannot see it.

"The game was the game and during 90 minutes in games like this, in a semi-final that is like a final, you cannot expect to control all the situations but we controlled [them]most of the time.

"They played long balls to (Olivier) Giroud and used the counter attack with the quality of their players, set-pieces they are a tall team and they beat us.

"We had a good performance, we played like you have to play a final. We did absolutely everything to play, like yesterday for example, like Tottenham, so it's congratulations to Arsenal and Chelsea for a trip to the final.

"We will improve next season, we'll be stronger, [in] all the games away against the Premier League teams."

Arsenal: Cech, Gabriel, Koscielny,Holding, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Bellerin, 105 mins), Xhaka, Ramsey, Monreal, Ozil (Coquelin, 119 mins), Sanchez, Giroud (Welbeck, 83 mins). Unused subs: Gibbs, Walcott, Iwobi, Martinez.

Man City: Bravo, Navas, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernandinho (Fernando, 99 mins), Toure, De Bruyne, Silva (Sterling, 23 mins), Sane, Aguero (Delph, 99 mins), Sterling (Iheanacho, 106 mins). Unused subs: Zabaleta, Kolarov, Caballero.

Referee: Craig Pawson

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