The sound of footsteps run into the distance. The hinge on the door betrays the need for oil to smooth it’s journey between open and closed. The footsteps get louder as they approach.
Dad, I opened the door and it’s really here!
What’s that son?
Footsteps pad into the distance before returning rapidly to the foreground
DAD? IT’S THE CUP FINAL SATURDAY AND WE’RE IN IT POST!!!!!
I know, it’s bloody brilliant, isn’t it?
Well, it is, isn’t it? If everything you dream of, if every trophy you desire, ends in the word “League”, sorry this one is not for you. Twelve months ago it was “The “Cup Final Saturday & We’re Not In It” Post“. Not today, it isn’t. Today we have the final for a proper cup, where 256 become 128 clubs who diminish into 64 into 32 into 16, 8, 4, 2, until the evening turns to night when there can be only one. Until then, we’ll hang tight and listen to the The Cup Final Hoedown by either clicking on the link or in the right hand sidebar widget.
Jesus, it’s been a long week and yet strangely quiet. When I was younger, the cup final seemed so much more, well, important in the past. Every word in the newspaper was hung on, every snippet on the early evening news watched without the benefit of continuous looping of the same story. Until on the Thursday or Friday when the teams were announced. Times have changed, Pathé gave way as the monochrome world moved into our living rooms from the cinema and the colour spectrum of the television screens moved into High Definition, shouting louder than High Fidelity. The luxuriant tones of Messrs Jones and Butler are long gone, it’s a different world, another era. It’s still the FA Cup final though. You remember the one where there was a joyous proclamation of how many viewers around the globe would be watching the game. When those numbers were recalled without the unsaid echoes of “but the Premier League attracts more…”
Even the likes of Sheffield Wednesday were the opponents and we need considerable quantities of alcohol to make the 120 minutes bearable. Granted I think that the 2014 final might be the first when one of the great and good left a courtroom in cuffs as part of the build-up. To be honest, that killed a paragraph or two about the cup final TV coverage years ago. No wonder the Beeb want to get this one over and done with. Who knows what Stuart Hall was laughing at maniacally now. You can’t be sure but Luxembourg have never been that funny to me, to be honest.
And I think that’s why some of the nostalgia has surfaced. That and distance. The regularity of the visits to Cardiff, that the final was held in the Welsh capital rather than on its native soil, bears part of the brunt. Rebuilding Wembley was necessary, anyone who stood on the terraces there will testify to that, but in doing so, the arch, well, let’s be honest, it lacks a bit of history.
So let’s create some then, eh, Arsenal. An eleventh win would equal that of Manchester United but that total is entirely unimportant. What is need on so many levels, for so many reasons, is that Arsenal win. Unless you view the Humber as your home.
Turning Wembley the same colour of the north London sky, that’s the aim for the day. For McLintock, read Mertesacker. George, Sunderland, the winning goalscorers await company in the pantheon. The heroic goalkeeping of Wilson, Jennings, Seaman wait to welcome; who do they wait to welcome, that’s the question, the decision Arsène Wenger has wrestled with this week, one that has left him less irritated than those over his contract. Lukasz Fabianski has served him well in the cup run, providing the platform for victory with two key saves in the semi-final shootout. That counts for something, doesn’t it. Much is made of Wenger’s loyalty, about his lineage not needing a pen to commit to a contract. Little has been said of his pragmatism, his ruthless winning streak. He will pick the side he believes will win and he has form in dropping a cup goalkeeper for the final as Richard Wright can attest. Not that it is certain Wojciech Szczesny will play either, it is a genuine 50/50 to the outsider. Those ‘in the know’ probably do so already, it seems incredulous to think that the players haven’t been informed who is in the starting line-up, who is on the bench.
That seems to be the most likely place for Jack Wilshere, Carl Jenkinson, Mathieu Flamini, Yaya Sanogo. Played they might have in other games this season but now is the time for those strongest, the fittest; the best XI he can field. Closer to the line-up which started the last home game of the Premier League campaign than the one that made the trip to Carrow Road. Take out Flamini and Monreal, replace them with Ramsey and Gibbs; those for me are the only changes even though reports this morning suggest that Bacary Sagna will be taking whatever medal he ends the day to the negotiating table in Manchester.
It leaves the line-up:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Ramsey, Arteta; Cazorla, Özil, Podolski; Giroud
They are good enough to win the match, technically gifted. It’s down to their professionalism. Turn up with an attitude that turning up is enough and they will get turned over. Hull will fight, they will want to fill themselves and their supporters with pride at their efforts. A pulsating final will be what the neutral wants, if they are not watching La Liga‘s climax. Personally, I would rather Arsenal be two-up in the first twenty minutes and kill the game off. Something they should have done against Birmingham. That’s one of the reasons for picking Szczesny. The manager believes him to be the best goalkeeper at the club but like Koscielny, today is the chance to exorcise ghosts.
As much as it is about ending the eight year wait for a trophy, it’s about the trophy, about winning. Everything else is a by-product of that, the column inches, the air expounded. Win today and the narrative changes, the focus turns to the title. Win today, that’s all.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.