Arsenal's second home and Manchester City's Wembley woes
It’s ironic that a ground so recently steeped in Arsenal success is now home to their arch rival. The fact remains Arsenal have won trophies at Wembley. Tottenham haven’t. Manchester City is Sky Blue rather than Lillywhite, yet also struggles on England's hallowed ground.
For all the stick given Arsene Wenger, he has performed especially well in cup competitions. The Frenchman has won the FA Cup in the three of the last four seasons. He now has the opportunity to win his first EFL Cup.
For all their dominance in the Premier League, City still have a thorn in their side. Their last few trips to Wembley have ended in misery. No blue moon shines over the capital.
Until Wenger's FA Cup success, moving away from Highbury was looking suspect. Prior to 2014, Arsenal had failed to win a trophy during the Emirates era. It took a long time, but they've found their mark.
Ninety thousand people will do something to you. Arsenal pressure like no other in their quest to reach the 2014 FA Cup final. The nervy wait, agronomy, and expectation made the achievement all the better. Per Mertesacker built the foundation for Wembley to become the club’s nomadic fortress. That goal against Wigan Athletic in the last few minutes of the semi-final forged the way. Ever since, they’ve taken on all comers at the ground in semi-finals, finals and Community Shields.
They’ve beaten the best and the rest here. Wigan, Reading, Chelsea, Manchester City, Hull City. Who can forget that 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa? Arsenal have needed extra time at times and even the occasional penalty kick. The end result has remained the same. A mere 8.9 miles from the Emirates, they have found a second home. Forever advancing. Forever lifting trophies.
Manchester City’s record is more intermittent. Ironically, many of the players who have done them in have been Londoners, or thereabouts. Chris Smalling’s goal in the 2011 Community Shield-cum-Manchester Derby. The iconic Ben Watson goal that gave Wigan the FA Cup in 2012. No invasions from the north for these prodigal sons.
City have had some success, however infrequent They defeated Sunderland 3-0 in the 2014 league cup final. Oh and in the same competition, got the better of Liverpool on penalties. Far from perfect. Yet, we cannot paint a cutthroat picture of City losing at Wembley. They can win there.
The problem is that they have no track record of doing so against Arsenal. The two clubs have met two times in the last four years.Arsenal has been the better in both games.
First was the 2014 Community Shield. City were hapless, Arsenal enterprising. The Gunners hit for three with no reply. More recently, the sides met in last year's FA Cup semi-final. Many expected City to prosper. Arsenal took them to overtime, then continued their Wembley dynasty by advancing and lifting the FA Cup in the final.
While past encounters shouldn't be a factor, it will most definitely be brought up in Wenger's pre-game talk, and might possibly be the dark matter seeping into the Citizens' minds. Arsenal will gain strength from the ground, knowing their prowess and expertise in winning there. The fans could almost buy season tickets given how often they've been. They’ll be in high spirit, doing their best to affect the match.
As they walk out, the City players might just remember they've been here before against this foe and failed. More than once. For them, Arsenal is Cerberus guarding the Cup Capital's honour. Will they be defeated before stepping on the pitch, believing they simply cannot get past this Wembley beast? Or will they decide third time pays for all?
Their fans may even be affected. They too have travelled to this ground many times, walking away with nothing. They will try to urge their side on, but if difficulties arise, the jitters will set in.
Consider the importance of this trophy to both teams, as well.
For Arsenal, this could be the only title they will win. It’s too early to gauge what will happen in Europa. This could be their season. This one match might determine whether they have any European football next year. It’s paramount Wenger has something to show for the season, with the Premier League and Champions League places all but beyond reach.
City won’t have set out with this competition being a priority. They are a club with much higher ambitions than the third-most-important cup in England. But the FA Cup is now gone and they have yet to encounter top competition in the Champions League. If they lose two trophies in the space of a week, their confidence will take a hit. The narrative on Pep Guardiola as a manager ill-suited for England will resurface. City desperately need to set their Wembley record straight.