Everyone who isn’t an Arsenal fan will probably be willing Hull City to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final over the weekend. The game and, more importantly, the result, is quite possibly one of the most important moments of Arsenal’s entire season. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Expectations in sport can be a funny thing. Three years ago Arsenal were expected to beat Birmingham City in the League Cup, but they fell short after a defensive disaster and a goal from Obafemi Martins. Now, they are expected to be Hull City when the two sides meet in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday, but pitfalls are part and parcel of the professional game.
Arsenal fans are pregnant with expectation by now, with a nine-year wait for silverware dragging on and on. The Gunners have sealed their 17th consecutive season in the Champions League.
For two thirds of the season, Arsenal were challenging for the title. That challenge unravelled spectacularly at different intervals and rumours around Wenger’s future range from him leaving regardless of what happens in the FA Cup to perhaps staying on a little while longer if Arsenal manage to win it.
Wenger had won the FA Cup with Arsenal in 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005, and admitted while the goal is to win trophies, much still depends on how teams perform in the Premier League.
“Our target is to win the trophies, but you judge the quality of the teams and their potential over the Premier League results,” Wenger said.
“On top of that you want to do well in the cups. The basis is first to do well with the stability of results in the championship, and on top of that get the cups.
“This is an opportunity for us to crown our season and the overall achievement if you look back on the season will look better if we win it. It’s all to do, all is in front of us so we just want to focus on Saturday’s game.”
Arsenal are bolstered by the return of Jack Whilshere and Aaron Ramsey as well as finishing the Premier League with five wins on the trot. Hull are making their first appearance in an FA Cup final, but the Arsenal boss remains grounded about his side’s prospects.
“To be favourites doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Wenger, whose side have beaten Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton en route to the final, said.
“It just means if you turn up on the day of the game with a good performance you have more chance of winning.
“I don’t believe we need any warning. We know that a final is a final, that Hull are a Premier League team, they can pass the ball, they can create chances. It’s just down to us to perform well on the day of the game.”
The Gunners are making their 18th FA Cup final appearance, while Hull have only ever gotten as far as the semi-finals. They faced Arsenal back in 1930 and lost in a replay. That same year, Arsenal claimed their first ever FA Cup win, beating Huddersfield Town 2-0 in the final. It would be too far of a stretch to see that as an omen, but expectations are weighing heavily on the North London club.
Hull have never won anything aside from a Division Three title back in 1966. Manager Steve Bruce will take much heart from Wigan Athletics performance over Manchester City last year. David beating Goliath is one of the more romantic narratives in domestic Football and Bruce will be drawing inspiration from Wigan.
“If you’re not an Arsenal fan, I’m sure the rest of the world will be rooting for Hull. We all saw what Wigan did last year. For me, it brings back a bit of the glamour. That’s what the FA Cup is about. The mighty Arsenal facing the small club of Hull,” said Bruce.
Hull had an impressive season and although they struggled towards the end, the possibility of a cup victory has always been in the back of their minds.
“That was my approach this year. I thought we’re never going to win the league but we’ve got a chance to win the FA Cup.”
“For the first time in a month, I can see a spring in their step,” he said. “They’re enjoying training like they should be. For four weeks, all they’ve thought about is the FA Cup final.”
Hull midfielder David Meyler didn’t mince his words about who the neutral would be cheering for.
“They haven’t won a trophy in nine years and they’ve got their posters up in London about their parade next week,” he said. “I’d rather be the underdog. People are delighted when the underdog wins – I don’t think many people want Arsenal to win.”
While a victory for Hull will certainly be phenomenal, a loss won’t be soul-destroying. Of course there will be disappointment, but mostly their efforts will be applauded.
For Arsenal, on the other hand, it’s a chance to stop quantifying success by Champions League qualification. A trophy will be the first step towards tangible success. It is one of the most important matches of the season for Arsenal and Wenger. A loss will culminate in overwhelming criticism and serious questions over Wenger’s future. DM
Photo: Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Bolton Wanderers in Bolton, northern England April 24, 2011. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí