LONDON – Alexis Sanchez ensured Arsenal’s stormy season will end with an F.A. Cup final after securing a 2-1 victory over Manchester City in extra time at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
The Chilean striker struck in the 101st minute to secure an all-London May 27 final against Chelsea. Arsenal is chasing a third title in four seasons in the competition that has provided a comfort blanket for Arsene Wenger during a 13-year Premier League trophy drought.
But with Arsenal languishing in seventh place in the Premier League, and set to miss out on the Champions League, the heat remains on the manager whose contract expires at the end of the season.
“People can question my decisions but not loyalty and commitment to this club,” Wenger said coyly about his managerial future after goals from defender Nacho Monreal and Sanchez gave him a shot at a seventh F.A. Cup triumph next month.
But Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of City will end without silverware, and he even faces a fight for a Champions League spot. That’s not what City was expecting when it hired the serial winner who had won titles in every campaign with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
But Guardiola was outwitted by Wenger, who has adopted the three-man defense that has served the Premier League’s top two teams, Chelsea and Tottenham, so well this season.
“Maybe we found in a period we needed a bit more security . . . a bit more defensive stability,” Wenger said.
Uncharacteristically, Arsenal’s defense was holding up strongly, denying City space to threaten Petr Cech’s goal. For an hour at least, until the Gunners were caught out by a ruthless counterattack.
Aaron Ramsey conceded possession on the edge of the City penalty area as he dithered on the ball. Yaya Toure intercepted and quickly chipped the ball over the Arsenal defense to Sergio Aguero. The Argentine raced past Rob Holding and Cech, who had been too slow off his line, watched helplessly as the ball was chipped over him into the net in the 62nd minute.
It was the striker’s 14th goal in 15 F.A. Cup games, and a painful sight for Ramsey who covered his face with his jersey as the City fans celebrated.
This wasn’t one of those days Arsenal capitulated, instead drawing level in the 71st minute from an unlikely source. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain crossed to the far post and Monreal demonstrated his ability by volleying past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo with his weaker right foot.
Monreal’s third goal in four years at Arsenal came close to being wiped out.
Only the woodwork spared Arsenal, with Toure’s shot beating a diving Cech before hitting the post and Fernandinho heading onto the crossbar.
Having forced extra time, Arsenal displayed the resolve lacking so often this year to turn the semifinal around.
Sanchez came through for Arsenal in extra time, just as he did for the joint-record 12-time F.A. Cup winners in the 2015 semifinal, producing a winner in the 101st minute. Mesut Ozil’s free kick was headed down by Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck missed his attempt but Sanchez demonstrated his poacher’s instinct to nudge the ball over the line.
“Our league form has not been good enough and obviously we are disappointed with how that’s gone,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “This was something we could hold onto for the fans. It was important we got to the final.”
In the Premier League on Sunday, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho needed his forwards to step up in the absence of Ibrahimovic, who sustained a serious knee injury on Thursday. Two of them did just that at Turf Moor to help United to a 2-0 win over Burnley.
Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney were handed rare starts and responded with first-half goals in what proved to be a comfortable win for United against a team with a strong home record.
United extended its unbeaten run to 23 games dating to Oct. 23 and has its old aura back heading into the derby against City on Thursday.
Christian Benteke haunted his old club in leading Crystal Palace to a 2-1 victory over Liverpool.
Benteke was sold by Liverpool to Palace for £27 million (now $34.6 million) in August as he didn’t fit into coach Juergen Klopp’s plans. He is proving the perfect fit at his new club.
The Belgium striker returned to Anfield and scored twice for Palace, the equalizer to cancel out Philippe Coutinho’s free kick and then a close-range winner from a 74th-minute corner.
It is now five goals in his last five games for Benteke, a run of goals that has helped Palace move seven points from the bottom three.
Palace manager Sam Allardyce secured his first win at Anfield in 14 attempts and looks to have masterminded another escape from relegation, which is proving to be his speciality.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5