Well, this series has proven a lucky charm!
For the second year in a row, we find ourselves finishing the League season with another game to look forward to – a trip to Wembley for the showpiece FA Cup final. It all comes down to whether we can repeat last year’s feat to take a historic 12th FA Cup crown.
Hopefully the players will see fit to make it a bit less stressful than last year though – in this column we relive the carnage and heartache which eventually led to our first trophy in an infamous nine years.
FA Cup Final
Saturday 17th May 2014, 17.00
Wembley Stadium (89,345)
Arsenal 3 – 2 Hull City AET
Fabianski, Sagna, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Cazorla (105), Arteta, Giroud, Ozil (105), Podolski (61)
Subs: Szczesny, Vermaelen, Rosicky (105), Wilshere (105), Monreal, Flamini, Sanogo (61)
McGregor, Elmohamady, Rosenior (102), Davies, Bruce (67), Chester, Livermore, Meyler, Fryatt, Quinn (75), Huddlestone
Subs: Harper, Figueroa, Koren, McShane (67), Boyd (102), Sagbo, Aluko (75)
Chester (3), Davies (9), Cazorla (17), Koscielny (72), Ramsey (109)
Arsenal arrived at Wembley for the first time since the horrific misunderstanding between Szczesny and Koscielny which led to Birmingham running off with the League Cup trophy back in 2011. Again, they were to be overwhelming favourites as pundits everywhere heaped the pressure onto Arsene Wenger and his men.
In the run up to the 2014 FA Cup Final, Hull had had a successful if unremarkable season, barring a sideshow around unsuccessful attempts to change the name of the club to Hull Tigers. In their first year back in the Premier League they had secured safety with a month to spare, and had little left to play for…barring their first-ever FA Cup final.
Their route to the final had included just one Premier League opponent – Sunderland in the 6th Round – with the remaining beaten sides being Middlesbrough, Southend, Brighton and Sheffield United. Indeed, Sunderland was the only time Hull came out of the hat first to secure a home time.
Arsenal meanwhile had picked up every home tie possible as well as seemingly every Premier League opposition available, beating Tottenham, Coventry, Liverpool, Everton and Wigan Athletic en route. In fact, they hadn’t had to leave the capital in the campaign at all. For once, fourth place had also been secured with two games to spare, leaving us a little preparation time for our first final since 2011.
The omens were relatively good for the Gunners, beating Hull twice in the League (2-0 and 3-0 at home and away respectively) and conceding just once in the previous four meetings between the two sides.
Hull also came into the game on the back of four losses and a draw since their semi-final win, albeit with the distraction of the final ahead.
Yet favourites or not, the 2013 final demonstrated (if it was needed) the importance of turning in a performance to match the reputation, as Wigan scalped Manchester City to take the trophy, as they did again in the quarter finals of the 2013-14 competition.
Arsenal would do their best to make the same mistake.
With Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry out, Arsenal were short on wide options ahead of the game – a particular shame for the younger Englishman as one of the stars of the semi-final. Cup keeper Fabianski was again selected between the posts.
For Hull, both Jelavic and Long remained ineligible having played earlier in the competition for Everton and West Brom respectively, but Steve Bruce had an otherwise complete squad to select from.
Imagine the scene: you’ve been in the stadium for ages, soaking in the atmosphere, singing yourself hoarse and getting ready to welcome the team who you hope will return your first trophy in nine well-publicised years. You sit forward in your seat as the game kicks off and the clock ticks over to four minutes.
Hull win a corner on their first attack, from which Huddlestone hits a volley which is going well wide, right up until the point that centre back James Chester sticks out an instinctive foot right in front of goal and suddenly you are 1-0 down. Stunned.
But you gather yourself together, roar your team on as another four minutes tick by on the clock. Another set piece, this time a freekick (taken EIGHT yards ahead of where the incident occurred, but never mind Lee Probert!) is eventually headed against the post and all of a sudden after a bit of pingpong in the box, the other centreback Curtis Davies fires a second into the net. Comatose.
Arsenal simply weren’t living with Hull’s tempo, swaying like a boxer who has taken one hit too many. Another of the Tiger’s defenders – Alex Bruce – had yet another goal-bound header cleared off the line by the leaping Kieran Gibbs in a first 15 minutes which saw the Gunners barely touch the ball.
At that point, one man in my block left the stand. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was a drinking-enforced bathroom break, but I can’t remember him returning to the stand. However, at that point pretty much every Arsenal fan both in the ground and around the world is thinking: Birmingham MK II. The only light at the end of the tunnel would be a quick goal.
It’s as if it’s the cue to wake up. A spell of possession ensues which draws Bruce into a clumsy tackle on Cazorla ten yards outside the box. The pint-size Spaniard dusts himself down, and as McGregor takes a fatal step the wrong way, Santi simply pings the ball into the top right corner of the net. A beauty.
He kisses both wrists in his familiar celebration before gesturing to the crowd to lift the atmosphere. Meanwhile, teammates collect the ball from the Hull net and sprint back for the restart. We dared to believe again.
It’s pretty much all Arsenal now with Giroud, Podolski and Ozil all combining well to engineer chances, and Hull drop deeper and deeper while using every ounce of physicality the referee will allow. With more than three quarters of the game left to find an equaliser, however, there is no longer the need for desperate panic.
We can afford to be patient and work the right openings.
Half time comes, and with it the first signs of nervousness starting to return around the stands. 45 minutes sounds a long time, but not so much when you are chasing a goal (and preferably two).
However, Arsenal have at least been showing promising signs of creativity, and as the second half commences it is immediately apparent that Arsene Wenger’s half time team talk has preached the virtues of patience. Without the outlets of a pacy right winger of any variety, it’s necessary.
With just over 60 minutes on the clock, it’s all much of a muchness and Arsene finally moves his cards a little away from his chest and introduces Sanogo as the wildcard in his pack for the fading Podolski. He’s instantly into the action, heading against Livermore’s arm as Probert misses the penalty shout.
Then another! Santi is upended in the box by Davies, but again the referee waves play on. It would be easy to think “this is not our day” but instead the Gunners continue to press, with the unpredictable combination of Giroud and Sanogo up top giving the Hull defence all sorts of different problems to think about.
But then, relief! A backheel from Sanogo earns a corner, and this time it is Arsenal’s turn to benefit from some ping pong in the box. Just as it took a centreback’s heroics to turn in the equaliser in the semi final against Wigan, again it is a big man from the back – Laurent Koscielny – who swivels and buries the ball in the net under a hefty challenge from McGregor.
What a cracking finish. As the cliche says: the crowd goes wild!
Then concern as we regain our sanity and realise Kos is still down in the box. He rises, and the celebrations begin over again.
It’s all Arsenal – Sanogo miscontrols as he bursts clear, Gibbs hits a glorious chance into row Z from seven yards, Cazorla is again shoves to the ground in the box, and Giroud has a handful of shots saved by McGregor. The momentum is only in one direction, and as the game moves into extra time, every fibre of your being is telling you that there can only be one winner.
But of course, this is a cup final, and nothing can be taken for granted. Arsenal continue to manufacture chances, with McGregor making further saves from Ozil, Giroud and Ramsey. Half time in extra time arrives and with Hull looking out on their feet, Wenger opts for the midfield dynamism of Wilshere and Rosicky. Ozil and Cazorla are the players to make way. (Imagine that happening this season!)
It nearly pays dividends as the two players exchanges passes down the left wing, but it is simply a sign of what is to come.
The game has moved into the period where a goal for either side will leave little time for the other to react. Your whole body is tensed, your legs touching the ground by the toes alone, and shaking up and down with the nerves.
Sagna intercepts the ball on halfway and quickly releases Ramsey on the right wing. The chance looks gone as he takes an age, but then lays it off to Arteta, but a first time ball on to Wilshere allows the Englishman to send a fierce pass into Sanogo. His instant control allows him to lay it across Giroud, who plays a beautiful instinctive backheel into the path of Arsenal’s soon-to-be-crowned Player of the Season. Ramsey requires just one swing of his right peg to bury the ball in the corner of the net.
The crowd doesn’t just go wild, it goes into ecstasy. Ramsey sprints to the corner of the stadium, swinging his arms in delight before sliding onto his back to receive the adulation of his teammates. Arsene Wenger doesn’t crack a smile – there are still 12 minutes of the game to see out.
One scare aside, the players do enough to take the sting out of a game already physically beyond the tired legs of the Tigers, and as Lee Probert finally blows his whistle, Arsene Wenger raises his arms in delight.
As Thomas Vermaelen lifts the famous FA Cup for the 11th time in Arsenal’s history, a roar goes up in the Arsenal end to shake the very fibres of your being. Later, as Gunnersaurus and the players lift the manager for a series of bumps, it starts to sink in.
We’ve won the cup.
Although it was stressful at the time, there’s a school of thought that you have to have the lows to make the highs all the sweeter. Our 2014 victory was certainly sweet. I’d take every minute of it again to be able to put on another parade to shame Chelsea’s efforts <link to Lee’s rant>. It was also our sixth win in seven FA Cup final appearances – Saturday would be a good time to make it seven in eight.
By reaching a 19th FA Cup final, Arsenal stand alone as the club with the most final appearances. With a win, we will move past Manchester United to be unequalled as the club with the most FA Cups won – a mighty 12.
A Victory for History.
If you haven’t already, you should check out these amazing FA Cup wallpapers by @arsenalofka to give your friends, family and colleagues Wembley envy and start that Final Feeling ahead of Saturday.