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It’s been nine long years since Arsenal last won a trophy and they have a great chance to put an end to that wait this Saturday in the FA Cup Final against Hull City. Arsenal’s season promised an awful lot but they finished fourth in the league yet again and the cup is where they can now find some glory. There are only three domestic trophies of any worth available in England and Arsenal can take the second most important of those after Manchester City have collected the other two.
In the nine years since Arsenal beat United on penalties to win the FA Cup there have been a few close calls. Who can forget the Champions Lesgue final of 2006 when 10 man Arsenal came so close to holding on to beat Barcelona, but lost 2-1 in the end. There was a Carling Cup final defeat to Chelsea the next season when Arsenal again took the lead and ended up losing by the same scoreline. There have been semi final defeats in all three cup competitions too and a couple of times when the Premier League challenge fell away just as us fans had got our hopes up.
I won’t harp on about the league campaign or lack of squad depth and striking options which eventually put paid to it this season, but most of the players who were missing at crucial times are back for the FA Cup. Both Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are players who can and do make a real difference and having both of them fit to face Hull is a massive boost for Arsenal. Their worth has been shown in the last few weeks with the team winning their last five league games to secure fourth spot with relative ease compared to recent seasons.
When it comes to the FA Cup only United have appeared in more finals than Arsenal and only United have won the trophy more times than them too. Arsenal will match United’s record of 18 appearances against Hull and they can match their record of 11 wins too. At the moment their record stands at 10 wins and seven defeats in FA Cup finals.
I’ve been lucky enough to be around for an awful lot of those finals in nearly 44 years of supporting Arsenal. It started in 1971 but I only have vague memories of beating Liverpool with a Charlie George screamer when Arsenal won the first of their three domestic doubles. Thankfully my memories of the following year’s final are vague too as Arsenal lost 1-0 to Leeds.
After a six year break they then played in successive finals from 1978 to 1980 with the only success of the three coming against United in 1979. I can remember all three finals very well back in the days when I was in my early teens and Chippy Brady was my hero. The defeats to Ipswich and West Ham in 78 and 80 hurt but at least there was the satisfaction of beating United sandwiched between them.
There were no FA Cup finals after that until 1993, but there was a horrendous Milk Cup Final defeat to Luton Town that will haunt me until the day I die. Think of the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham three years ago and multiply the pain by a factor of 10 at least.
In the 1990s George Graham won his only FA Cup as Arsenal manager in 1993 when they did a domestic cup double by beating Sheffield Wednesday in both finals and followed it up by winning the European Cup Winners Cup the next season. We thought they were glory days no matter how the style of play grated or how defensively minded the manager became before his eventual departure.
The Arsene Wenger reign started off with a League and Cup double in his second season in charge as Arsenal beat Newcastle in the final to secure both trophies together for the second time in their history and surpass their local rivals. Wenger has gone on to win three more FA Cups as Arsenal manager and the only FA Cup final loss under him was against Liverpool in 2001 when some pathetic refereeing and a late Michael Owen brace saw a far superior Arsenal team lose a game they should have walked away with.
They made up for it the next season by beating Chelsea in the final to secure their second double under Wenger and their third overall. They held on to the trophy the next season by beating Southampton and then two years later came their most recent win against United. It’s a pretty good FA Cup record since I started supporting Arsenal as a five year old back in 1970.
This will be their 12th final in those years and they had only played in six in the previous 86 years since the club was founded. I’ve been very lucky to live through the club’a best years in the cup and to have seen six league titles come our way too. Hopefully my record will read eight wins and four defeats when the game is over.
It’s often been said Arsene Wenger doesn’t treat the cup with the respect it deserves, but Arsenal have won four of their five finals under him and he has won more FA Cups for the club than any other manager. They haven’t reached a final in nine years though and that’s probably why those accusations have been aimed his way. It’s been a difficult nine years for the club as they have looked to pay for the magnificent new stadium while still trying to challenge the newly rich clubs like Chelsea and City. A win against Hull would be the first trophy since Arsenal moved to their new stadium and hopefully the first of many if they can win the game.
The game itself is there for Arsenal to win with the array of talent they have available to them. They have played Hull twice in the league this season and won both games scoring seven goals in the process. I’m not trying to be insulting towards Hull but there’s a very good reason why Arsenal are the strong favourites to win.
From a team selection point of view I want to see the strongest possible Arsenal team which means Lukasz Fabianski and Yaya Sanogo should really be on the bench. They have both been constants in the cup this season though and there’s a very good chance they will get the nod ahead of Wojciech Szczesny and Olivier Giroud.
The rest of the team more or less picks itself with the exception of the battle between Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal for the left back slot. I think the boss would prefer to pick Gibbs but he’s only just back from another injury which might tip things in Monreal’s favour. Both players offer a fair amount going forward, but I think Gibbs is a better defender.
I would love to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain play to utilise his pace in the wide open spaces of Wembley, but I think the game may have come just too soon for him to start. If he’s fit to make the bench he could be a great weapon for Arsenal to have in reserve. Since Theo Walcott got injured in the third round defeat of Spurs Chamberlain has been the only player with real attacking pace in the team.
Wembley has a very big pitch and Arsenal have the players to use every inch of it to tire the Hull players. If they can play their swift passing game and make the Hull players chase them they could be facing a very tired team before the end. It looks like it’s going to be a very hot day and possession of the ball is going to be very important.
When the two teams played at Hull a few weeks ago Hull tried to press Arsenal and close them down all over the pitch. The tactic backfired though as Arsenal had too many good players on the pitch and found their way past them to win 3-0. Hull had their chances of course, but it was a well deserved win and more of the same would be very welcome.
I think Hull will be a lot more defensive though and hope to frustrate Arsenal and maybe try to score from a set piece or on the break. They were very good defensively earlier in the season and they might just try to rely on that defensive ability. With Ramsey and Ozil in the team Arsenal I think Arsenal will quite simply have too much quality for Hull. To add to Hull’s woes their two best strikers were signed in the January transfer window and can’t play because they’re both cup tied.
I would love Arsenal to come out and play in devastating style from the start like they did at home to Liverpool in the league and Napoli in the Champions League this season. If they can do that against Hull I think the trophy is theirs, but it won’t be easy to do so. I’m predicting an Arsenal win though and I’m fairly confident they will win. I just can’t imagine them losing and I dread to think what the reaction might be if they do lose.
I’ll be in London for the game but I won’t be at Wembley as there wasn’t a hope of getting tickets. I’ll be in a pub close to the Emirates with hundreds of other Arsenal fans singing our hearts out to support our team. I can’t wait to get there for what promises to be a great day.
That’s it for today.
See you tomorrow.