Richard Buxton: Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final spot a false positive
Arteta needs to address failings exposed in win over Sheffield United
Arsenal and the Statue of Liberty are far closer than the ocean between them suggests.
Both continue to welcome tired and huddled masses as well as the wretched refuse from teeming shores with open arms and seemingly no questions asked.
No exiled player's baggage is considered too big for the Gunners' stalled renaissance as Dani Ceballos struck a smash-and-grab winner to send them stumbling into the FA Cup semi-finals last night, courtesy of a 2-1 victory against Sheffield United.
|(David McGoldrick 87)||(Nicolas Pepe 25-pen, Dani Ceballos 90+1)|
Real Madrid's loanee spared the blushes of Mikel Arteta just when defensive indiscipline and a lack of creativity threatened to further extend his side's ordeal at Bramall Lane.
A series of fortuitous video assistant referee (VAR) decisions had staved off the Blades' threat, with technology ruling out John Lundstram's early opener for offside and awarding a penalty for an innocuous challenge by Chris Basham on Alexandre Lacazette.
But an apprenticeship at the knee of Pep Guardiola clearly carries drawbacks for Arteta; Arsenal chronically lack the precision required to execute Manchester City's blueprint.
They enjoyed over 70 per cent possession during the first half, but Nicolas Pepe's well-taken effort from 12 yards alarmingly constituted their only noteworthy chance.
Dominating proceedings without an authoritative score line to match allowed the doggedness of Chris Wilder's side to shine through after the interval and fashioned as many chances in an opening 20-minute spell as the visitors had mustered all game.
A team whose budget is a third of Arsenal's lavish resources comfortably outplayed them. This was not what the brochure had promised by any stretch of the imagination.
Changing the culture after some two decades of "Wengernomics" was never going to be an overnight transition, yet the north Londoners are still hugely lagging behind the times.
David Luiz's withdrawal due to injury early in the second half arguably helped their place at Wembley by removing a player who is part pantomime villain and part liability.
Had the bumbling Brazilian remained in the defensive mix after Sead Kolasinac's appalling clearance against Shkodran Mustafi allowed the Blades to equalise through David McGoldrick in the 87th minute, the end result could have been catastrophic.
Luiz's unwarranted contract extension typifies a growing yet belated link with Kia Joorabchian in the decade since he and his clients were at the peak of their powers.
Their English Premier League peers previously reaped the benefits of the super agent's stable by signing genuinely exciting talents that included Willian, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
Wolverhampton Wanderers, who sit four places and nine points clear of Arteta's team in the EPL, are also continuing to enjoy the trappings of a tie-in with one of Joorabchian's biggest former adversaries in the form of Jorge Mendes.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are continuing to scramble around the bargain bucket.
If Willian moves across the English capital this summer, at 31, it will be as another faded glory.
Progressing to the last four of the world's most famous club cup competition, similarly, is a false positive.
Had Ceballos not opened his account by shooting past Dean Henderson in the first minute of added time, the scrutiny on Arteta would have intensified.
His former teammate Robin van Persie spoke immediately after the game of a clear disconnect within the ranks at the Emirates Stadium.
If results and performances fail to pick up before the season ends, those voices will be more dissenting and even scathing.