When Manchester City and Arsenal line-up on the hallowed turf at Wembley on Sunday, it will only be the fourth meeting between the two sides in the FA Cup’s 136-year history.
City won the first encounter back in February 1904 – a 2-0 victory over Phil Kelso’s Woolwich Arsenal at Highbury in the second round proper, as it was known back then; nowadays, that stage is the fifth round.
The Blues would eventually go onto lift the trophy courtesy of a solitary Billy Meredith goal against Bolton Wanderers, the first of five FA Cup triumphs to date.
Only once before have City locked horns with the Gunners at the semi-final stage of the most famous competition, for that meeting we have to journey back to March 1932 where Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal progressed to the final after a 1-0 win at Villa Park.
Newcastle United would go onto win the FA Cup that year in the infamous “Over The Line” final, where Jimmy Richardson crossed the ball from behind the byline for Jack Allen to equalise for the Magpies. Allen also scored the winner for Newcastle as the Toon secured their third FA Cup crown.
This is City’s 12th foray into the last four, and it’s safe to say that the Blue half of Manchester have an impressive record at this stage with 10 wins. Aside from the 1932 defeat to Arsenal, the Blues were also beaten by eventual winners Newcastle in 1924. This will be the Gunners’ 29th FA Cup semi-final and they have progressed to the final 19 times in total.
City’s last tussle with Arsenal in the FA Cup was in February 1971 where the Gunners secured a 2-1 win at Maine Road. Bertie Mee’s side went onto claim a first of four league and cup doubles that season, beating Liverpool in the final to clinch their first FA Cup trophy in over two decades.
With 12 wins to their name, the Gunners are the joint record holders in this competition along with Manchester United. Six of those triumphs belong to Arsene Wenger, who won his first FA Cup in 1998, and is the most decorated manager in the tournament’s history along with Aston Villa’s George Ramsey.
The Blues will be looking to prevent the Frenchman from going onto claim trophy number seven next month, but will be hoping for a better performance that their last outing at Wembley against the Gunners. Arsenal were comfortable 3-0 winners in the Community Shield in August 2014 on an afternoon to forget for the then-defending Premier League champions.
Since then, City have only won once in six games against the North London outfit and lost twice, with all three draws finishing 2-2. The Blues’ overall record against Arsenal doesn’t make particularly pretty reading, either. In the 190 meetings in all competitions, the Gunners have won exactly half with City winning 50.
Pep Guardiola is likely to recall Willy Caballero to the starting line-up now Claudio Bravo has been reinstated as number one Premier League goalkeeper. The Argentinian has fond memories of Wembley after his penalty shoot-out heroics against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup last season.
The return of natural leadership to the backline in the shape of Vincent Kompany gave the Blues’ defence a more solid look in the 3-0 victory over Southampton last weekend. There will be cries for the City skipper to start on Sunday as Guardiola attempts to guide the team to a first major final under his tutelage.
Pablo Zabaleta will also be itching to reclaim his position at right back having not started a game since the FA Cup quarter final victory at Middlesbrough in March. Since then, the Argentinian stalwart has only seen 10 minutes of action in substitute appearances against Arsenal and Southampton respectively. With the exception of the fourth round victory over Crystal Palace, Zabaleta has played every minute of the Blues’ cup run and even grabbed a goal against Huddersfield in the replay.
It looks as though Kevin de Bruyne has rediscovered his swagger and early season form too. Having gone 16 games without providing an assist, the Belgian has laid on four goals in his last four outings, although he is yet to find the net since the start of February in the 4-0 win at West Ham.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were back amongst the goals for Arsenal as they secured a morale-boosting victory over relegation-threatened Middlesbrough on Monday night. Wenger tinkered with his formation and opted to play three at the back and has hinted that he may deploy a similar tactic against City.
However, amongst all the speculation of tactics and potential starting line-ups, one thing is for certain: this is a fixture of huge significance for both teams as they look to end a somewhat turbulent season a piece of silverware.
Written by Chris Wildgoose
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