Our defence of the FA Cup swings back into action this weekend.
Yeah, meedja, look! We won something last season
Yes, I know, you’ve noticed that already.
With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to have a look at our last five successful FA Cup campaigns, and some moments when it could all have gone horribly wrong.
If you want the truth of the motivation for this piece, I was originally gonna look at our last five round five ties, but didn’t fancy digging up Blackburn at home again.
On a similar note, no disrespect to Gillingham intended, but a piece on the round five games from our last five successful FA Cup campaigns wasn’t really appealing either.
So, without further ado, we begin with:
Per Mertesacker, Arsenal v Wigan- Semi Final, 2014
Now, I know there are those of you who might think that there are two moments from the final itself which are probably more deserving than this one.
Certainly, Kieran Gibbs headed clearance from the goal line prevented a dangerous situation becoming unrecoverable whilst Santi Cazorla’s magical free kick to get us back into the game immediately afterwards deflated any euphoia Hull might have been feeling at their two goal advantage.
I was at Wembley that day. I remember the feeling of utter despair as Wigan stuck their penalty away with half an hour to play and Arsenal going nowhere.
I remember the fight in the block next to us.
I remember the anger as the useless Podolski was hooked, and the tears pricking my eyes as I stared at the end of the Arsène Wenger era and I remember the relief when, with eight minutes left on the clock, Per Mertesacker headed that equaliser.
As I put it on this very website:
“I have never known a feeling of such relief in my life”
The celebration that greeted this goal was, well, I was going to say “as close as I’ve come to losing it” but who am I kidding? I lost it.
And I suspect you did too.
The (successful) penalty shoot out that followed was almost an irrelevance after that.
Freddie Ljungberg, Arsenal v Manchester United- Final, 2005
Freddie, you will recall, became the first man to score in successive cup finals for forty years with goals against Liverpool and Chelsea in 2001 and 02 respectively.
However it was his contribution at the other end of the pitch which sees his inclusion here.
Anyone who watched the 2005 final will remember that, as in 2001, one team took a battering.
You will also recall that the team that took the battering, somehow, won the match.
In 2001, Liverpool had the Monotowen to thank for their act of grand larceny.
In 2005, Ruud van Nistelrooy was left cursing his luck as Freddie Ljungberg headed a late header from nobody’s favourite Dutchman off the goal line.
A very busy Jens Lehmann had ruled supreme all day and on the one time he was beaten, Freddie intervened to keep it goalless.
All that was then required from us was five nerveless penalties.
The final one was dispatched, with his final kick for the club, by the great Patrick Vieira.
What a way to go out!
Ryan Giggs, Manchester United v Arsenal- R5, 2003
In fairness, as with 2014, there were a couple of moments in this run which could have been included.
There was David Seaman’s last great roar in defiance of age, as well as gravity, to deny Paul Peschosolido a semi final equaliser.
There was also a performance, for 10-man Arsenal, from Patrick Vieira at Stamford Bridge which I honestly believe I will remember to my dying day which dragged us through a tough replay.
However, I can only look at Ryan Giggs unbelieveable miss at Old Trafford as the turning point of that run.
Particularly as we’ve all heard so much about 1999.
Arsenal went to Old Trafford as the double winners from the previous season. However, they had already been beaten, relatively comfortably, by United in the league that season and were without Thierry Henry.
The last thing they would have needed was to go a goal down to their rivals and when Ryan Giggs rounded David Seaman just outside our box, it was inevitable.
Except that, to the disbelief of everyone watching, the great Ryan Giggs somehow spooned the ball over the bar.
Making the most of this let off, we took the lead through Edu before Sylvain Wiltord scored a fine second goal to ensure our progress.
As the popular song of the time went:
Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, flying down the wing
Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, flying down the wing
How did he miss? Arsenal took the piss!
Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs
As an aside, isn’t funny how often we seemed to come up against both United and Chelsea around then? Three years in a row, United and I think the same was true of Chelsea.
Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal v Liverpool- R4, 2002
Basically, I’m including this one because the memory of a properly banging FA Cup tie is still with me 13 years on.
And because it was against Liverpool.
I remember watching this game and trembling with the excitement of it all.
A brilliant Bergkamp header from a typically flowing move down the Arsenal left won us the game but, a rematch from the previous year’s final was never going to be without drama.
Martin Keown was dismissed with half the second half remaining and Dennis Bergkamp followed him just three minutes later for a foul on Jamie Carragher.
Luckily for us, as the Dutchman was dismissed, some legend- sorry, idiot- in the East Stand threw a coin at the Liverpudlian. He returned it with interest, becoming the first Scouser in the history of the universe to give money back and was promptly dismissed.
Who knows what might have happened had Carragher remained on the pitch with Arsenal down to nine?
As it was, our nine saw the game out against their 10, in the process laying any demons from the previous year’s final to rest.
Arsenal proved that they had more than enough about them to reclaim the top spot in England, which they would so emphatically, on a May night in Manchester.
So, perhaps this was more a turning point in our season.
Alex Manninger heroics, West Ham v Arsenal- R6 replay, 1998
In many ways, this is a similar type of entry to the previous one.
Another exhilarating, breathless, cup tie, another Dennis Bergkamp sending off, another Arsenal victory.
Again, this replay was less of a game that turned on an incident, but more of a game that represented a turning point in our season.
In the replay, Nicolas Anelka put us into the lead with one of those blistering, “did you see that?” strikes the Frenchman seemed to specialise in that season.
We were already down to ten men by then, as Dennis Bergkamp had splattered Steve Lomas’s nose all over his face.
In the face of intense pressure, the Arsenal back four- the famous four- defended magnificently and when they were breached, young Alex Manninger was on hand to keep the Hammers out.
It felt like a proper hammer blow, then, when John ‘Artson, former Gunner, equalised with just six minutes left.
Surely, their 11 would have too much for our 10 in extra time?
They couldn’t find a way through and so to penalties.
Chris Wreh missed but so did Hartson, who hit the post. Remi Garde missed our 4th penalty, with Manninger saving Berkovic’s effort. Vieira and Lomas scored their efforts, which left Tony Adams to roll one of the worst penalties I’ve ever seen down the middle but score and (not Diaby) Abou to hit the very same post that Hartson struck.
After a most testing night, we had made it through, somehow.
I remember this night well, because coming just three days after our 1-0 win at Old Trafford (our first since 1991), it was the night I became convinced not only was the Double on, it was going to happen.
If only I had been a betting man…