It’s a long time in a lifetime, let alone in football.
For those of us of a Gooner persuasion, it’s a length of time which is far too familiar to us.
When Arsenal won the FA Cup last year, at least a small part of the happiness that ensued was because we could, finally, cast that monkey off our backs and no longer have to listen to the talk about the length of time since our last trophy.
Of course, that reckoned without a press that simply moved on to “ten years and counting” since the last League title, but it has at least reduced some of the noise. After all, when it comes to time elapsed since the last league crown there are clubs with much more scary numbers than Arsenal.
Four of the country’s six most successful clubs have never won the Premier League. Not Everton, Aston Villa or Sunderland. Not Liverpool. Before the money arrived at Stamford Bridge and Eastlands, 50 and 44 years had passed respectively since they last stood as champions of England.
For Spurs, it’s now 54 years and counting.
On the morning of 17th May 2014, only one thing mattered – that that captain of Arsenal Football Club would mount the steps above the Wembley turf, lay hands on that famous trophy, and lift it above his head as 25,000* Gooners roared away to his right.
*What a joke.
At 17:09 on that same day, it became even more prevalent – the last thing we could afford was another Birmingham 2011. £42.5m players don’t join your club to lose cup finals to mid-table opponents.
We all remember how it went, how grateful we were after 90 minutes to be going to extra time, and the sheer relief and ecstasy the final whistle after Ramsey’s winner.
Winning was everything.
However, the performance left much to be desired – it’s hardly the trait of champions to concede two goals in the opening moments of a match, and give yourselves a mountain to climb. Against a so-called bigger side, there would be no return from such a capitulation. Indeed, as we saw ourselves in those three unspeakably horrific away games.
Going into Saturday’s game, some progression is required. On the one hand, we’ve finished third for the first time since 2011-12 and been fairly close to second, but on the other hand we were never truly in the title race unlike last year, and this time round we haven’t exactly had to beat any big cheeses to even reach the final.
No, progression is required.
We’ve all heard pundits wax lyrical about how players like John Terry and Vincent Kompany are “winners” in terms of mentality and character, as well as trophy hauls. It’s hard to identify a single Arsenal player who would be bestowed such praise, other than perhaps Alexis. Part of that comes from being clinical.
The last FA Cup final to be decided by more than a single goal was 2004 when Manchester United beat Millwall 3-0. The last time it was achieved against top level opposition was – you guessed it – the Arsenal side of 2001-02 when they beat Chelsea 2-0.
When I talk about being clinical, it doesn’t mean we need to win the game 5-0, although that would of course be nice, but it does mean that we have to make sure we do not give Aston Villa a single sniff of victory.
It means keeping it tight at the back, it means remaining patient, it means retaining the confidence that we will find a goal at some point, and it means being deadly in front of goal when our chances do arise.
Just ask any Spurs fan who was at Wembley back in March.
2015-16 will be a huge season for Arsenal. With the right (rose-tinted) spectacles it is possible to squint and see that this side’s trajectory is a strong upward curve.
In 2012-13, we finished 4th and reached the 5th round of the FA Cup.
In 2013-14, we finished 4th and won the FA Cup.
In 2014-15, we finished 3rd , won the Community Shield and have a chance to retain the FA Cup.
Yes, the Community Shield counts.
Over the course of the season, we have improved our form to the point where we would be champions if only the season were measured by calendar year, with 42 points to Chelsea’s 41.
If we can maintain that level of performance then 2015-16 will be very exciting, but it’s important that we set the right tone both for our summer activity and the start of the new season. And that means winning the FA Cup – and winning it convincingly.
A trophy is a trophy, but in both finals, Arsenal were/are favourites for the title. Great teams scare the opposition. It comes out time and again when you listen to the Invincibles and their opponents talking – they knew they were going to win, and more importantly the opposition knew they were going to lose.
Last year, it was sufficient to win – we needed the trophy and we needed that winning feeling. This year, we need more.
It’s too easy to throw around comments about “laying down markers” and “making statements” but if ever there was a time for Arsenal to do so, that time is now.
Beating Manchester United in the manner we did was a statement, no doubt, and now we have an opportunity to make another one. The players need to be confident that on the big occasion, they – and their teammates – can turn in a performance to match.
Santi Cazorla did it. Aaron Ramsey did it. This year we need every player to step up to the plate, and I’m looking at one man in particular.
The main man
Mesut Ozil did not have a 2014 FA Cup final to remember.
We had been desperately scratching around for results to snatch fourth place from the jaws of Europa League football, in the wake of our defeat to Everton at the start of April. Ozil, under pressure to carry the team, had managed just one league goal and one assist since 28th January.
This year, with a fellow megabucks signing alongside him in Alexis, Mesut has been majestic as the conductor of the Arsenal orchestra.
It’s helped that Cazorla has also been in tip-top form in a deeper role to allow Mesut to play centrally, and also that Arsenal now have willing runners all over the pitch to create the space for his vision and execution to excel.
This year, it is time for him to write his name all over Arsenal folklore by turning up on the big occasion. It doesn’t mean we need goals or assists from him, though they would undoubtedly be nice, it simply means that he needs to provide the oil that greases the Arsenal wheels and makes sure that the storyline of the 2015 FA Cup Final is one which strikes fear into the hearts of Chelsea fans across the city.
So come on, Mesut, turn in the performance we all know you’re capable of on the big stage, and help us take that record 12th FA Cup trophy. Help us attract more “winners” over the summer.
Help us show that we’re a force to be reckoned with.
Help us take Victory for History.