Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal answered their critics with a “strong and united” performance as they beat Manchester City to reach a third FA Cup final in four years.
Alexis Sanchez scored an extra-time winner as the Gunners came from behind to win 2-1 and reach a record 20th final – and an eighth under Wenger.
“People questioned us, we went through tough times,” Wenger said.
“You can be divided or united and we have shown the right response.”
Wenger, 67, has come under more scrutiny this season than at any other time in his 21-year reign at Arsenal, with the Gunners lying in seventh place in the Premier League and on the receiving end of a 10-2 aggregate thrashing by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
The Frenchman is out of contract at the end of the season and has been offered a new two-year deal, although he is yet to announce whether he will continue.
Some sections of Arsenal fans have protested against Wenger in recent months, but the manager was pleased to see his side rally after falling behind to Sergio Aguero’s opener.
“You know I feel the club is in a very strong shape, and that we have a very strong overall situation and a very strong team,” he said.
“One day I will leave anyway so the most important thing is that Arsenal will always be a great club that everybody admires.
“I felt it was a big test for us today, a mental test because many people question if we can turn up on an occasion like this.
“It was a very tight game but overall I think we deserved to win the game. The players showed great togetherness.”
‘Sanchez will be here next year’
Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have been linked with moves away from the club this summer, and the Chilean highlighted his importance with his 24th goal of the season which settled
Wenger expects the former Barcelona forward to extend his stay at the Emirates.
He said: “Alexis Sanchez was like the team. He had problems at the start and became stronger and stronger.
“He is an animal, always ready to kill the opponent. He will never give up.
“He will be here next year because he has a contract and hopefully we will manage to extend him.”
‘We’ll improve next season’
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said he had no regrets after seeing his side beaten, a result which means the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss will end a season without a trophy for the first time in his coaching career.
“We performed like we would want to in a final,” he said.
“We did absolutely everything. Congratulations to Arsenal. We’ll improve next season.
“We competed here, we had more chances but the finishing was like it has been throughout the season.”
‘A display of steel, grit and resilience’
BBC Sport’s chief football writer Phil McNulty at Wembley:
Arsene Wenger’s mask slipped as he pumped his fists in triumph repeatedly at the conclusion of Arsenal’s win.
Wenger has never been under greater scrutiny or pressure than he has been in recent months, dealing with the toxic combination of growing unrest among Arsenal fans and a collapse in form that leaves their Champions League ambitions under threat.
And yet here, with the pressure at its highest, Wenger coaxed the sort of performance out of Arsenal that puts him on course for an historic FA Cup win when they face Chelsea in the final in late May.
Yes, his Arsenal side enjoyed large portions of good fortune with Raheem Sterling’s disallowed goal and efforts against the woodwork from Yaya Toure and Fernandinho – but Wenger deserves credit for persevering with a three-man defensive system that goes against his natural instincts.
This was an Arsenal display of steel, grit and resilience topped off by a comeback crowned by Sanchez’s poached winner.
And Arsenal’s players played for their manager, with some dedicating the victory to the man who has been a convenient shield for their own shortcomings during the recent slide.
Reality dictates that Arsenal’s ills and the uncertainly surrounding Wenger cannot be wiped away by one win. He will need a trophy and/or that top-four place otherwise they idea of him staying on and signing a new deal will be a hard sell to that disgruntled strand of Gunners support.
As for Wenger’s opposite number Guardiola, he may have had a hard luck story to tell as he left Wembley but the bottom line is the man brought to Manchester City to move them on to the next level in succession to Manuel Pellegrini will end the season empty-handed and that is a serious disappointment.
This was not how it was meant to be but this City team simply has too many flaws. For all their attacking riches, they are not ruthless enough, are insecure at the back and uncertainty continues over the goalkeeping position, where Guardiola’s choice to replace Joe Hart, Claudio Bravo, has not convinced.
And now the pressure is really on – if Guardiola fails to guide City into the top four then this season will be nothing other than an abject failure after the exit at the last 16 stage to Monaco in the Champions League.
City are currently fourth, a point ahead of Manchester United before Thursday’s derby at Etihad Stadium.
A top-four place was the very minimum requirement for Guardiola and his players before the start of the season – failure to deliver would not be well-received by the club’s fiercely ambitious Abu Dhabi-based hierarchy.