LONDON – Seven months after leaving Pep Guardiola's side, Mikel Arteta outwitted his mentor to ensure his first season as Arsenal manager will end with an FA Cup final.
In only his 25th match as a manager, Arteta masterminded a 2-0 victory — secured by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's double — that ended Manchester City's title defense on Saturday.
It was a cup won as part of a treble last season when Arteta was assistant to Guardiola at City and fans were still allowed to pack into the national stadium.
Just a few hundred key personnel were allowed into Wembley for Saturday's semifinal as the 90,000-capacity was largely empty for the first time for a top-level game due to ongoing pandemic restrictions. The north London stadium will be closed to fans again on Sunday when Chelsea plays Manchester United in the other semifinal.
“It’s very sad we cannot enjoy this moment with our fans and enjoy watching the team and achieving the final,” said Arteta, who replaced Unai Emery as Arsenal manager in December. “We have great chemistry. They really believe in what we are trying to do and you can sense that."
England's two best teams have now been beaten by Arsenal inside three days, with newly crowned champion Liverpool beaten in the Premier League on Wednesday. But Arteta's side is only 10th in the league, having lost to Tottenham in last weekend's north London derby.
Just a month ago, when the Premier League resumed from its 100-day shutdown, Arsenal was beaten 3-0 by City in the Premier League. This semifinal was as one-sided as that night with City enjoying more than two-thirds of the ball.
But Arsenal soaked up the pressure and hit City on the counterattack to end a run of seven successive losses when it had been outscored 20-2 by City.
“We did it because we were humble and we understood the way we have to play and we took the opportunities to score," Arsenal defender David Luiz said. “It’s a good process, we have an amazing coach and he wants to bring us the best football but it’s not zero to 100.”
Unlike at the Etihad last month, Luiz was a formidable barrier in central defense, rather than giving away a goal and being sent off.
“What he needs is that we trust him," Arteta said. “He’s had some difficult moments and then he has some incredible moments.”
City managed only one shot on target — the lowest in a game since April 2018 — when Raheem Sterling struck at goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with the scores level.
“We had two kind of good chances in the beginning when we won the ball in front of the Arsenal goal," City midfielder İlkay Gündoğan said. "But after that, our game was sloppy and slow and there was a lack of energy.”
Arsenal's opener was the product of an 18-pass move involving 10 players — straight from the Guardiola playbook. Aubameyang, who had just squandered a chance to score, slid in ahead of Kyle Walker at the far post to poke in Nicolas Pepe's cross in the 19th minute.
Sterling had chances to level at the start of the second half, striking wide and over in the opening minutes. But Aubameyang secured Arsenal's passage into the final in the 71st. Played in by Kieran Tierney, the striker cut in from the left flank and poked the ball between Ederson's legs for his 25th goal of the season.
The FA Cup is the second trophy surrendered by City this season after losing the Premier League title to Liverpool.
But City has already successfully defended the League Cup and can still win a double. Guardiola's team remains in the pandemic-delayed Champions League, resuming next month with a 2-1 lead in the round of 16 against Real Madrid.
“We wanted to play the (FA Cup) final one week before the Madrid game to be in rhythm," Guardiola said, "but we missed this chance.”
Second in the Premier League, City already knows it will be in the Champions League next season after overturning a two-season European ban.
But winning a record-extending 14th FA Cup could be Arsenal's only route into the Europa League, given its 10th place and two games remaining.
“If we are in Europe,” Arteta said, “it will help, obviously, because financially we will be stronger.”
BURNLEY EYES EUROPE
Burnley still has a hope of qualifying for Europe after moving up to ninth by beating Norwich 2-0 in Saturday's only Premier League game.
Norwich, which has already been relegated, had two players sent off before Burnley took the lead.
Emiliano Buendia went for violent conduct and Josip Drmic for a mistimed tackle before Chris Wood scored in first-half stoppage time. Ben Godfrey then turned the ball into his own net in the 80th minute.
While Norwich is going down, Leeds is returning to the Premier League after a 16-year exile. And the northern English team will be promoted as champions.
The League Championship title was clinched on Saturday after third-place Brentford lost 1-0 at Stoke. It is the first trophy for Leeds since 1992 when it won the last edition of the First Division before it became the Premier League.