The Drought Is Over and Belief Restored
The drought is over.
Arsenal have lifted the curse, jettisoned the monkey, banished the thick veil of gloom; after nine long years the Gunners have exorcised the demons by winning the 2014 FA Cup.
The relief is palpable and the joy for Arsene Wenger cannot be contained.
Perma-grin has taken hold and it may well last for quite awhile.
It wasn’t an easy road to victory, as Arsenal once again started with a big-game lethargy that has worryingly been all too commonplace the past few seasons. The lads displayed a bizarre lack of focus and intensity, shackled and downtrodden by the weight of expectation, 11 deer frozen in the Wembley spotlight.
Just 3 minutes into the match, a well-rehearsed Hull corner-routine saw the ball driven to the top of the box, then returned low with purpose into the mixer, finally steered skillfully home by James Chester.
The Gunners were shell-shocked and confounded.
Minutes latter it only got worse. Stephen Quinn’s cross was headed into the turf, and then bounced dangerously towards the side-netting of Lukas Fabianski’s goal. The Polish shot-stopper made a valiant effort to keep the ball out of the net, and did so with help from his post, but the second-ball fell kindly to Curtis Davies and the center-back lashed home an improbable 2nd goal for the Tigers.
Wenger was beside himself.
The Gunners were falling apart and letting it all slip away.
These opening exchanges were reminiscent of the league encounter between these two sides a few weeks ago. Hull were physical, tough in the tackle, and showed that they could keep the ball; the Tigers dominated the first fifteen minutes of the FA Cup Final.
Arsenal were floundering and the nausea was overwhelming.
But in the 17th minute, the Gunners were awarded a free kick some 25 yards from goal. Santiago Cazorla stepped up and took ownership of the deadball.
The Spaniard set himself, inhaling the atmosphere around him, a look of unflinching determination plastered across his face, and unleashed a bending drive with the right-instep that fired-past Allan McGregor and grazed the underside of the crossbar on its way home – it was a goal that will be forever remembered, a goal that pulled the North-Londoner’s from the depths of despair and humiliation.
It came as no surprise that Santi would be the player to resurrect the boys from Dial Square.
It was one month ago that I wrote how Cazorla has been Arsenal Football Club’s player of the season https://www.football.com/en-gb/rambo-s-return-and-two-dirty-words-goal-differential/
Last Saturday’s timely goal further underlined Cazorla’s value to the squad: technically brilliant and intelligent in his passing and finishing, immune to nerves and jitters verse big players in big games, and most importantly, unfaltering in his belief that Arsenal Football Club should be a Club that wins trophies.
Ohhhh, Santi Cazorla!
The rest of the first half was tense and absorbing as Hull looked to hold on and Arsenal felt a glimmer of hope return: Mesut Ozil swung and missed at a great ball in front of goal from Lukas Podolski, Tom Huddlestone was dirty in the challenge but good on the ball, and Olivier Giroud was uninvolved and ineffectual.
Hull lead 2-1 at half time and it was all to play for.
Approaching the 60th minute, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta began to tire, there was loads of space up for grabs in the middle-third of the park, and it seemed a certainty that Wenger would bring on Matheiu Flamini.
Instead he gambled.
The Frenchman withdrew Podolski and brought in young Yaya Sanogo.
It was a wager that Wenger had to make, and it was an all-in move that was surprising to say the least; very few times this season have Arsenal played in a traditional 4-4-2, but it was all on the line and Arsenal had to equalize. There was significant concern that only two players in the middle of the park could lead to a worse-case scenario for Gunners – Arteta, in particular, looked to be losing steam.
But Wenger’s decision proved a brilliant one.
Sanogo and Giroud started combining almost immediately to great effect; creating half-half chances in and around the box, holding up the ball for midfield support, and earning multiple corners for their side.
In the 72nd minute it was a corner that would alter the future of Arsenal.
The cross sailed in from the corner flag and it was Bacary Sagna, a noble servant to the Club during so many fruitless seasons, who sprung from his feet to challenge in the air for the great white-paneled orb.
The ball was deflected off two hull players, pinball-ing around dangerously until it nearly made ground fall at the six-yard box. Laurent Koscielny was quickest to respond and keep it off the grass.
The French defender risked life and limb as McGregor steamrolled down upon him, crunching into his knee, yet Koscielny stood tall, and swept the ball into the back of the net.
The goal sent echoes of jubilant pandemonium racing around the walls of Wembley and across the four corners of globe.
Arsenal were level and it seemed the pre-match favorites were now likely to go on and obtain that elusive trophy.
In the 79th minute, Kieran Gibbs should have ended the contest all together but could only send a sitter on the six well into orbit.
The last ten minutes plus added time were conservatively played, Ozil and Sagna came close, but both sides seemed resigned to the two fifteen minute periods of extra-time that were just around the corner.
The first fifteen were dominated by Arsenal, as their ability and confidence enjoyed a rebirth from the Koscielny goal. Cazorla was replaced by Tomas Rosicky and Ozil by Jack Wilshere.
Giroud nailed the crossbar with a powerful header in the 93rd minute after Ramsey had floated in a fantastic ball, but the Hull keeper was saved by the woodwork.
Yet the center of the park continued to remain up for grabs, as the toll on Ramsey and Arteta continued to be felt. Thankfully, Rambo proved a willing leader despite losing energy, and continued to take responsibility on his shoulders, displaying the courage to shoot-on-sight, even if the efforts were skied over the bar as his legs began to tire in the search for glory.
In the 109th minute of play, Arsenal served up a sizzling combination-platter that any Iron Chef would be proud of as Sonogo, Giroud and Ramsey combined in triangular-perfection: Sagna laying the ball back to Giroud, who drove forward towards the corner flag, and with the eyes in the back of his head firmly fixed on the darting Welshman, he delivered an inch-perfect back-heel that Ramsey smashed first-time into the goal, shaving the paint off the near post as it nestled home.
Peter Rabbit couldn’t have found a better way into Mr. McGregor’s garden if he tried.
With the winning goal, Aaron Ramsey becomes forever rooted into the annals of Arsenal FC folklore. This is the same player that for years Arsenal supporters had ridiculed, derided, and cursed, the same player who experienced a dreadful leg break that looked to have ended his career; despite it all he has bounced back stronger than ever, and after this season it’s hard to argue against him being considered the best box-to-box midfielder in the Barclay’s Premier League.
Credit goes to Ramsey for remaking himself, and so too should it go to Arsene Wenger, for his vision and commitment to playing football the right way, for his faith and unwavering loyalty in his young players, and for his undying commitment to Arsenal FC.
Final Thoughts on the 2014 Season:
It was predictable that Manchester City and the billions of Sheikh Mansour would outlast the Gunners in the title race; it was predictable, given the challenge of their draw with Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League, that Arsenal’s best chance at ending the trophy drought was the FA Cup; I made these very predictions in my article on football.com back on February 6th which you can read here: https://www.football.com/en-us/flight-of-february-arsenal-s-crucial-fixtures/
Nevertheless, this season for Arsenal has been a resounding success.
Arsenal have made it through the nine-year darkness by bolstering their squad, they have vanquished the mental anguish of being seen as trophy-less underachievers in the process, and by adding a few necessary pieces this summer can once again begin to fill the cabinets of the Emirates with domestic and European treasures.
The drought is over and belief is restored.
Come on Arsenal!