2014Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (C), is covered in champagne by his players as they celebrate their victory against …
It was as though nine whole years of hurt, nine years of pent-up emotion and anger, nine years of disaster and disappointment, had dissipated in one moment. Bacary Sagna was offering prayers to the heavens, Kieran Gibbs crumpled to the turf and, amongst it all, Arsene Wenger could not suppress the grin creeping across his face as he embraced his players, one by one. Soon he was being given the bumps and doused in champagne – a taste he has waited a long time to reacquire.
Having seemingly been set on course for fresh failure by two early Hull goals, a well-established template could be detected: Arsenal were being challenged once again to show the backbone and character that has so often eluded them since they last lifted a trophy in 2005. But after 120 minutes of torture for their supporters, they finally, gloriously, delivered. Stop the jokes: the Emirates Stadium trophy cabinet is no longer barren.
In truth, it didn't much matter how a first trophy in nine years arrived; after Arsenal's trophy drought, they could not afford to be picky. Despite their awful start to proceedings at Wembley, the mere fact they lifted silverware meant this was the most cathartic of moments. Because at 2-0 down after eight minutes, a long litany of failure weighed heavily on Arsenal's shoulders.
Chelsea, Barcelona, Bradford, Birmingham and Birmingham again: these were the disappointments which flashed into the mind, the unhealed scars subjecting Arsenal fans to a dull ache in their sides. Rank disappointment was their destiny once again, it seemed. Yet a team so often beset by insecurity looked within themselves and finally discovered a capacity for delight.
The consummation came, fittingly, from the boot of a player who more than most has embodied Arsenal's emotional fluctation in recent years. Aaron Ramsey, who until 18 months ago was a player bereft of confidence, completed the season of his life with his 14th goal as he slotted the ball into the bottom corner from Olivier Giroud's backheel after 109 minutes to seal a 3-2 win. His transformation from callow but promising talent to trophy winner has mirrored Arsenal's this season.
Wenger, who was applauded into his press conference, said: “It is a relief and happiness because of course we were under severe pressure to win today and we didn't start well. It was a big, big happiness - we have waited a long time for that. The happiness is linked sometimes with the suffering and how long you have to wait for something. “
It is misleading to portray a semi-final against Wigan and final against Hull as constituting an easy ride when wins against Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton preceded those fixtures, and claiming a record-equalling 11th FA Cup will rank as one of Wenger's very finest achievements in English football.
In truth, he has constructed better teams and won bigger prizes, but not under the relentless scrutiny that nine fruitless years brought upon him. His contract as yet remains unsigned, and whether in future this result will be seen a glorious end to the Wenger era or perhaps the start of a new wave of success, we should not lose sight of its crucial importance in the moment. Arsenal had to win this final. And, thanks to a performance of real resolve, they did just that.
Arsene Wenger lifts the FA Cup for the fifth time - but for the first time in nearly a decade
Wenger, who also won the competition in 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005, had no reluctance in describing this as his best FA Cup moment: “It was more important today than all the others because we made twice the Double (in 1998 and 2002) so you have already won and you are not under the pressure we were under today. I have won it now five times which is not too bad.”
On signing his new contract he added: “Look, normally that should happen, yes. Are we in normal circumstances? Yes, we are in very normal circumstances. It was never a question of leaving, it was a question of doing the right thing for the club.”
Winning a trophy has surely reinforced his belief he is the right man for the job, but for a long period his future seemed very much in the balance at Wembley. After a torrid opening eight minutes which ranked alongside Arsenal's worst moments under Wenger, both James Chester and Curtis Davies scoring for Hull, the Gunners needed a sublime free-kick from Santi Cazorla to get them back into the contest. From them it was a nervy wait until Laurent Koscielny hooked the ball over the line after 71 minutes to complete the comeback. Having avoided disaster, Arsenal took control in extra-time with Olivier Giroud rattling the bar with a header and then Ramsey slotting home a sublime shot after a backheel from the French striker.
Even then, with just five minutes of extra-time remaining, Arsenal almost self-destructed, Fabiankski charging from his goal to the touchline where his lunge missed Yannick Sagbo. The Hull forward was unable to steer the ball into an empty net from a tight angle. Fabianski then dropped a cross two minutes later – seemingly reprising Wojciech Szczesny's moment of abject horror in the 2011 League Cup final against Birmingham - only for the Pole to gratefully grab onto the ball.
It was another reminder of the calamities which regularly befell Arsenal in their barren years, extensive enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment for a group of fans who had become bloated on feasting on the success of the early Wenger era. The years since 2005 have not been kind – Wenger’s methods, deployed against the backdrop of the financial hit of a new stadium, have not aged well. Yet this was a repudiation of those critics who have had so much ammunition to work with, most notably Jose Mourinho, who in a season when he branded Wenger a “specialist in failure” has himself failed to collect a trophy.
But ultimately this win was not about silencing Mourinho, or stopping the jibes of rival fans. It was about a moment of huge emotional release for a club, for a manager and for a group of supporters who have suffered together for nine long years. As as Wenger's players held him aloft at Wembley, the flowing champagne washed it all away.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport
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