Arsenal v Manchester City
Sunday April 23, 15:00
Live on BT Sport 1
In a world of rolling news, where social media gives everyone a platform and managers are second-guessed and scrutinised more heavily than ever before, Arsene Wenger stands as one of modern football's great anomalies. The 67-year-old could have walked away years ago with his head held high, but his burning desire to return the Gunners to the top of English football still remains, and there is still a strong possibility that he will extend his 21-year stay at the club.
Given the relentless focus on anti-Wenger protests amongst the Arsenal faithful, you would think the tide has well and truly turned against the Frenchman, but there is still a sizeable pro-Wenger core of supporters. However, this season's facts and figures are starting to really stack up against the man who has delivered nine major trophies and two European finals in just over two decades in charge.
The Gunners have won just three of their last nine Premier League games, and find themselves seven points adrift of the top four with just seven games to play. A crushing defeat to Bayern Munich yet again put paid to Arsenal's European ambitions, so now the prospect of winning a seventh FA Cup under Wenger stands like a shining beacon in the gloom.
Wisely, Wenger is trying to treat Sunday's semi-final in isolation, and is insisting the poor league form won't have a bearing on the Wembley clash. He says the recent win at Middlesbrough showed that his players are united, and are willing to fight. It's worth noting that they did show guts and determination when they faced Manchester City earlier this month, twice battling back from a goal down to draw 2-2.
It remains to be seen whether Wenger will once again employ the three-man defensive line he used at the Riverside. Shkodran Mustafi, Santi Cazorla and Lucas Perez are all expected to miss the game.
There were many people (including me) who expected Pep Guardiola to challenge for the Premier League in his first season, but his revolution at Manchester City is taking longer than advertised. They are 11 points behind the leaders Chelsea, and they had their pants pulled down in the Champions League by a vibrant and determined Monaco side. Guardiola's reputation is constantly buffeted by those who wrongly believe he somehow had an easy ride at Barcelona and Bayern - a trophy in his first season at the Etihad would do the Catalan no harm.
City have won just two of their last six games, and their record against some of the biggest teams in England is patchy. In the last few weeks they have been held to draws by Arsenal and Liverpool, and they have lost to Chelsea. Over the course of the whole season, they have taken just one point from Liverpool, one point from Spurs, no points from Chelsea, and one point from Everton. They beat Arsenal at the Etihad and Manchester United at Old Trafford, but the overall picture isn't the one City's executives had in their minds when they targeted Guardiola.
That's not to say that City haven't played some thrilling football this season. They average nearly two goals per game in the league, and have some of the most exciting talents in European football. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and David Silva are a joy to watch, and despite speculation about his future, Sergio Aguero has still rattled in 26 goals in all competitions.
Defender John Stones is still injured, so the long-awaited return of Vincent Kompany to the ranks continues to be a boost. Brazilian youngster Gabriel Jesus has recovered from a foot injury ahead of schedule, and could be Guardiola's ace in the hole.
City are the 1.9210/11 favourites to win in 90 minutes here, and Opta tell us they are trying to maintain a proud record. City have progressed from their last eight FA Cup semi-finals, a run that stretches back to 1932, when they lost in the last four to Arsenal.
The Gunners also have some history on their side. They are unbeaten in their last six games at Wembley, and they have only lost one of their last eight meetings with Manchester City.
I agree with Wenger that Arsenal can put their league worries behind them here. Although many of their players lack the mental toughness to maintain a title challenge over a long season, they can still turn on the style in a one-off game, and they can draw strength from the way they fought back twice from a deficit against City in the league a few weeks ago.
I see this as a pretty even contest between two teams with attacking talent and defensive flaws, and as such I don't subscribe to the notion that City should be odds-on to win this in 90 minutes. I'm happy to oppose them at 1.9210/11.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Seven of the last nine meetings between the sides have featured at least three goals, and four of those have seen an Over 3.5 Goals bet land. Both teams are better going forward than they are digging in, so you may fancy backing Over 2.5 Goals at 1.564/7 or Over 3.5 Goals at 2.3811/8.
Opta tell us that Alexis Sanchez has scored five goals in his last four appearances at Wembley (including a brace for Chile against England), and he netted the opening goal in Monday's win at Middlesbrough. He can be backed at 2.747/4 to find the net in 90 minutes.
On the City side of things, Leroy Sane has recovered from an understandably slow start to his career in England, and he has scored six goals in his last 13 appearances. He scored in the recent 2-2 draw at Arsenal, and scored in last weekend's 3-0 win at Southampton. He is priced at 2.962/1.
Lay Manchester City at 1.9210/11
Back Alexis Sanchez to score at 2.747/4