Arsenal finally delivered a proper trophy to their fans with an entertaining, albeit nervy win over Hull City.
Highly fancied before kick off, Arsenal did their best to make a complete cock up of it by going 2-0 down within eight minutes. In the pre-match press conference Wenger had promised the team was focused and motivated, but they looked anything but as Hull took a stranglehold on the game from the kick off. Two scrappy goals later and we were looking down the barrel of another Birmingham-style humiliation.
It looked as though Hull had been working on set pieces and tactics all week, whereas you got the impression we’d done neither, and Wenger had just sent the lads onto the pitch to play the way they always play and hope it works.
It felt like the 1991 FA Cup semi final all over again as the shellshocked Gunners tried to get a foothold in the game. Then came the game’s pivotal moment as Gibbs cleared Bruce Jnr’s looping header off the line to prevent us going 3-0 down — a scoreline we surely wouldn’t have recovered from.
As it was, Cazorla lit up Wembley on 17 minutes with a rare moment of quality, sending a long range free kick into the top corner and it felt like we’d pulled one back early enough to still be considered favourites, even though we were a goal behind.
Immediately we had a ten minute spell when we looked likely to equalise, but it petered out and Hull were looking comfortable in possession as the half drew to a close. This was not a backs to the wall performance from the underdogs — we knew something had to change from Arsenal to get back into this and prevent another season of pundits littering their commentaries with “trophy drought”.
The second half started slowly, although we had a couple of good penalty shouts. Wenger sent on Sanogo for the inneffective Podolski and suddenly we had some pace in the side, albeit allied to a clumsy touch. But no matter, the intent was there and we pushed Hull back, although it took a lucky ricochet from a corner to make it 2-2 when Koscielny slammed home from close range.
The momentum was with the Gunners now and it looked a question of whether we’d get the winner before full time or in extra time. Hull were looking weary and Gibbs missed a sitter on 79 minutes before Giroud produced a good save from McGregor and Sanogo fired just wide in the last minute.
As with Wigan, another ‘inferior’ side had taken us to extra time, but this time we produced the quality to win the match and prevent a penalty shootout. Giroud hit the bar early on before backheeling into Ramsey’s path which allowed the Welshman to strike home the winning goal on 109 minutes.
There was one late scare when Mertesacker stumbled and Fabianski — who’d had nothing to do for an hour — came haring out of his area as only Fabianski does, evoking memories of his dreadful decision in 2007 that allowed Drogba to net the winner in the League Cup final. This time the rash Pole got lucky as Aluko failed to hit the unguarded target and Gibbs swept away the last moment of danger.
Victory was finally ours.
Overall the match itself was entertaining, though lacking in quality except for a few nice touches from Cazorla and Ramsey, whose goals were both sublime. I’m determined not to be too critical on the day we finally landed some silverware, so I’ll stop there — recriminations and reflections on the season as a whole can wait for another day and another article.
For now, it is a relief to be winners again. We must be realistic as we are only ranked as fifth favourite for next season according to the latest Premier League odds, but the psychological barrier of having a bare trophy cabinet has finally been removed. We can go into the new season with the confidence of being FA Cup holders, having won more than Chelsea (are you watching Mourinho?), Liverpool, Man Utd and Spurs over the last nine months.
If Wenger is reflective, self-critical and strives to improve in areas he has come up short in the last few seasons, victory parades around Islington could become more commonplace in the future. Over to you Arsene.
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