It was a Cup final for the books, packed with intensity, calamity and sublime goals which had to be settled in extra time. It was the most important day of Arsenal’s season, and although they very nearly found new and creative ways to conspire to disappoint, they broke a nine-year drought to be crowned FA Cup Champions on Sunday. Hull City fought valiantly before being defeated 3-2, thanks to a superb goal from Aaron Ramsey.
It wouldn’t have been an Arsenal match if it didn’t start off with a few surprises. Within ten minutes, James Chester and Curtis Davies had found the back of the net to put Hull ahead 2-0. Dubious defending, with no Arsenal players on the post, left the Gunners stunned. Santi Cazorla halved the lead 17 minutes in, but Arsenal had to wait until the 71st minute before Laurent Koscielny drew them level. Sustained possession and pressure after being constantly tested by Hull in the first half eventually paid off for Wenger’s men.
But regulation time couldn’t settle the scores and the tired legs were ushered into extra time where Aaron Ramsey fired a sublime match-winning goal into the back of the net in the 107th minute. The engraver already starting to etch out Arsenal’s name into the trophy, a few nervy moments followed. With Lukas Fabianski caught way outside the penalty area, Sone Aluko cleared him and fired towards the goal but scraped just inches wide. Aluko came very close a few minutes later, this time with a sharp kick from in front of the goal which was pushed wide by Fabianski.
The superstitious would have been clenching their teeth from the moment they saw the engraver getting busy. Arsenal had already printed their open-top bus with FA Cup Winners earlier in the week, a move which drew much negative press. But superstitions and omens had no place this time around. When the final whistle blew at Wembley, the relief for Wenger and the rest of the side was visible. Despite a few penalty chances not given, Arsenal persisted and made their own luck on Saturday and for Wenger, this was the most import FA Cups he had ever won as a manager.
“It was more important today than all the others,” said Wenger, who became the joint most successful manger in the history of the competition alongside former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson.
“Twice we did the double (1998 and 2002), we had already won (a trophy) so we were not under the pressure we were today. I’ve won it now five times, it’s not too bad. I’m in good company (with Ferguson).”
While the win is a relief for Arsenal, Hull deserve all the credit in the world for the fight they put up. They might never have been favourites, but under Steve Bruce, the team from Humberside has punched above their weight. The disappointment might be gut wrenching at first, but there must also be praise. It was a few moments of individual magic which cost them the match, not complete incompetence. With Arsenal having already secured a Champions League place, Hull will have a chance to build on this season past with a chance in Europa League qualifying. The romance of the Cup might not have prevailed for the little guys, but there is much for Hull to celebrate.
“It’s disappointing to take, we’re all disappointed. We put on a fantastic show. We have to recover and get over it. We’re delighted with what we’ve done but we’ll move forward. The vast majority of them who played today all played with me in the Championship, so we’ve had a wonderful couple of years,” said Bruce.
“But it’d have made it even more historic and memorable if we had gone and nicked it today. You could see why they’ve got promoted and why they’ve had the season they’ve had because they showed an incredible amount of courage to go and take the game to them. On another day we might have just won the cup, and that was obviously the aim, but it wasn’t to be.”
Arsenal, on the other hand, have some sort of tangible success for the first time in almost a decade. It might only be the FA Cup, but they got there by beating Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham, amongst others, all while being stifled with injury. It is a relief as much as it is an achievement.
For Wenger, this should re-ignite his desire to win. It might not have waned in recent years, but he might have forgotten what it felt like. The Frenchman all but confirmed that he would be staying on at the Emirates and the trophy would certainly go a long way in helping him decide where to from here.
Perhaps he will discover that he has a war chest with nine-year’s worth of funds to splash out over the summer. While his approach has always been more nuanced than simply throwing money around, Wenger should no longer deny that he needs to strengthen his squad. He can certainly nourish talent, but that doesn’t been he is above buying some either. Although injuries played their part this season, the lack of depth in the back four as well as the side having only one true striker cost them this season. The injuries are something which Arsenal would not have been able to foresee, but other shortcomings cannot be forgiven so simply. Modern elite football requires some investment and that is something Wenger has always kicked against.
But Wenger’s patience and trust in his players should not be overlooked either. Getting Mathieu Flamini on the free was a good move, and putting faith and patience in Aaron Ramsey has paid its dividends. His decision to reward Fabianski with a place in the starting line-up for the Cup final was more evidence of just how much he believes in his players. It is something that very few managers get right these days.
The win will bring some much-needed relief for Arsenal, but it should also open a new door to introspection for Wenger. If he stays, it’s time to reassess his philosophy. The Arsenal way cannot continue to be the hard way. DM
Photo: Arsenal players celebrate after winning the English FA Cup final against Hull City at Wembley stadium in London, Britain, 17 May 2014. Arsenal come from two goals down to win the FA Cup, 3-2 after extra time against Hull City. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA
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