Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola surprise us all in FA Cup semifinals
Just when you thought you'd figured somebody out, they go and do something unexpected.
Take Arsene Wenger. He's the guy we've been criticising for years for being too stubborn, too one-dimensional, too wedded to an idea of football that's now passe, too soft, too unwilling to win ugly. So what does he do? He plays a 3-4-2-1 in an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley featuring two holding midfielders and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Nacho Monreal out wide. And rather than trying to pass his way around Manchester City, he happily concedes possession relying instead on a front three of Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
Or take Pep Guardiola. He's the guy who always wants to attack, who doesn't know how to defend and who hates being pragmatic. What does he do when, nine minutes into extra-time and with the score deadlocked, he realizes his center-forward can't go on? He sends on two defensive midfielders like Fernando and Fabian Delph for Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero.
What this should tell us, at the very least, is that it's risky -- and often inaccurate -- to stereotype managers. At some point, they react to situations like the rest of us.
Sunday's 2-1 win for Arsenal was a game marked by mistakes, with both teams evidently showing signs of wear and tear after a long season. Each had a fairly decent penalty shout but the episodes favoured Manchester City, who hit the woodwork twice and had a goal disallowed when the linesman erroneously judged a cross to have gone out of play.
Yet that doesn't mean the victory wasn't important, or deserved, for Arsenal. The reaction and the grit shown by the players rather contradicted the popular narrative whereby they're all aching for a change and want to drive Arsene Wenger out the door.
It also laid out a rather intriguing scenario. If, as some contend, Wenger would only consider leaving on a high, would an FA Cup win and maybe a strong finale in the Premier League -- perhaps not a top-four finish as that ship seems to have sailed, but some big wins against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United -- constitute enough of a high?
As for City, Guardiola said what you expected him to say. City created more and better chances than the opposition, they could easily have won, he's happy with the performance. And as often happens with Pep, you tend to believe him. You also tend to believe he could care less that this will be his first season in eight top-flight campaigns that he'll finish without a trophy.
To read more of Marcotti's thoughts on what happened over the previous week, click here.