Arsenal 3 – 2 Hull City
0 – 1 Chester (4)
0 – 2 Davies (8)
1 – 2 Cazorla (17)
2 – 2 Koscielny (71)
3 – 2 Ramsey (109)
Just as Manchester a City spent but a short time at the top of the Premier League table, Arsenal won the FA Cup despite leading for just 11 minutes. Wasting an hour of the game chasing a two-goal lead, Arsenal displayed the character so sorely missing in other big games away from The Emirates this season. And at the end of it, the narrative changed, nine trophyless years became a decade without the title.
Who cares? Yesterday, today, tomorrow and for some time yet we’ll enjoy basking in the FA’s glory, hoping that it represents the platform for greater things. If not greater things, better ones will do.
When I think back through the cup triumphs in my lifetime, the routine victory yesterday should have been seemed unlikely. Sure, the Wenger doubles were straightforward wins and Southampton posed little trouble but ’71, ’79, ’93, ’05; against the odds or overcoming a deficit. We can add ’14 to that list as well. If bewildered looks following Kieran Gibbs goal line clearance suggested a sense of “not again“, Santo Cazorla’s sumptuous quick reply provided the basis of belief.
Three set-pieces; two terrible defensive errors punished by goals, a third denied by Gibbs intervention. Arsenal were comfortable on the ball but all at sea defensively in the opening fifteen minutes. And yet I felt no panic; was it arrogant presumption or simple belief, confidence in the players not failing again, on this of all days? Anger of course. Disappointment and disgust at such woeful defending. Hope overriding the despair at schoolboy errors, at the continued failings when it mattered. In short, the normal emotional roller coaster of ninety minutes, expanded through an extra half an hour.
And at the end of it, a foot and a half of silverware, adorned with read and white ribbons that matched the colour of the North London skyline. She might not have been wearing yellow ribbons but May is still the merriest of months and she has sashayed to her new abode, the first major trophy won since the shrug trip away from Highbury.
And it feels great.
Arsène captured the moment post-match,
It is a relief and a happiness because of course we were under severe pressure to win today and we didn’t start well…In the end it finished well so it is a big, big moment of happiness and we waited a long time for that. The happiness is linked sometimes with the suffering and the time you have to wait, so that is maybe why it was a great moment at the end of the game.
He made mention of the poor start, the hesitancy and was right to credit the players. The thing with cup finals is that the result decides whether the performance matters. Win, of course it doesn’t and no time should be wasted in who played well and who didn’t; you just enjoy the moment. Lose and at a club like Arsenal, introspection and recrimination initiate the grieving process. That’s what it is, after all. Whether Hull will do the same, I don’t know. They certainly hold Lee Probert is the same low esteem as Arsenal; the referee had a spectacularly poor afternoon when it mattered and in front of an audience of millions. The Tigers second came from a free kick taken significantly further forward than it should have done, changing the angle of delivery. Probably not changing the poor defending though. Sanogo didn’t win the corner that led to the equaliser. Two goals, one for each side, from officiating errors, a rare occasion when things do even themselves out during the season.
And when the winner came, there was a sense of not if but when; almost an air of inevitability even though there is nothing that pre-determines that outcome. Arsenal had enjoyed more possession than might ordinarily considered decent in a showpiece occasion. Accepted in the Premier League era, probably beforehand too but time has caused such things to merge into one, lost in a swirl of results. Prompted by the effervescent Santi Cazorla, Hull had been forced deeper into their own half to the extent that when they broke, no support could bridge the gap between attack and defence. It shouldn’t have taken until the second period of extra-time, that’s for certain; Kieran Gibbs will relive the moment he held FA Cup glory in his hands and skied over the bar from six or so yards out; an impressively stunning miss, on a par with Ronnie Rosenthal or Ryan Giggs hitting the bar when finding the back of the net was easier.
In the end it didn’t matter, there was no need for the gut-wrenching joy (or agony) of a penalty shootout. Olivier Giroud’s cunning backheel set Aaron Ramsey for an opportunity to score with the outside of his boot. The memories of his FA Cup final defeat with Cardiff will be overwritten by the unbridled joy of the winning goal. It might have been the fourth, Giroud had thundered a header onto the bar in the first period of the extra thirty minutes. It might have been pegged back when Per Mertesacker’s ill-timed but now hilarious mimicking of Gerrard’s stumble let Aluko away, Fabianski brought back memories of yesteryear by hurtling out of the goal, easily evaded, turning to see the ball meander across the face of the goal, watched out of play by Gibbs flailing foot. Heartstopping moments that underline that the day is yours.
And it was.