Friday, 23 May 2014

Finally the wait is over!!

Arsenal 3-2 Hull

A week ago today Arsenal were gearing up for the most important game of their season. In fact as Arsene Wenger later revealed, it was also the most important game in the manager’s reign at the club. The Gunners went into the FA Cup final against Hull City carrying the weight of nine long years without a trophy as well as a league campaign which had promised so much for so long, but ultimately petered out as the pressure mounted.

In such circumstances it would have been understandable for the Arsenal players to go into such a big game with feelings of trepidation. After all, they were also the strong favourites against a Hull City side that had been comfortably beaten in both games during the league season. Steve Bruce’s side therefore had nothing to lose, mounting even more pressure on the shoulders of the Arsenal players.

After eight minutes of the cup final, it appeared as though that pressure had told and the game was already over. From Hull’s very first corner of the game, the Gunners were far too easily caught out as the ball was delivered to the edge of the box, towards Tom Huddlestone, rather than into the penalty area. The former Tottenham man’s volleyed effort was heading wide of goal, however the ball struck James Chester and flew past the wrong footed Fabianski and into the bottom corner of the goal. Arsenal were in a state of shock, their fans recalling memories of the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham city in 2011. The Gunners just couldn’t react, they were second best to every ball and out fought and outmuscled in the aerial challenges. Every time the ball was crossed into the Arsenal box, those in red and white were all at sea.

The real surprise therefore was that it wasn’t really shocking at all when Curtis Davies prodded home a second for Hull, as the underdogs were well on top. They could even have been three goals up had Kieran Gibbs not headed Alex Bruce’s effort off the line a few minutes later, as Arsenal supporters looked on in disbelief while their side imploded.

The Gunners needed something special to kick start a revival and so it arrived thanks to Santi Cazorla on 17 minutes. Arsenal are not renowned for their ability from set pieces, yet the Spaniard summoned up his indisputable talent to send a wonderful free kick right into the top corner of the goal, the ball clipping the bottom of the crossbar on its way in, leaving McGregor with absolutely no chance. It was exactly what the Gunners needed.

Suddenly Wenger’s men seized control of the game as they went in search of an equaliser. Ozil squandered a wonderful opportunity as the he failed to connect with Podolski’s cross, Ramsey’s effort was blocked and Cazorla failed to find the right pass as he surged through on goal just before half time.

The second half was all Arsenal. The Gunners poured forward time and time again as they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. Yet they struggled to create goal scoring opportunities as Hull sat deep and as the game entered the 60th minute, Wenger had seen enough. The Frenchman sent on Yaya Sanogo instead of Podolski, electing to switch to a 4-4-2 formation. Although Sanogo does have his detractors and is clearly still very raw, he was still able to cause havoc in the Hull defence. As a result, the Gunners began to create chances and the pressure on Bruce’s side began to tell with Cazorla ridiculously denied the clearest of clear penalties. Then in the 78th minute Arsenal were awarded a corner.

Cazorla’s delivery found Sagna, whose header was deflected into the path of Koscielny. The central defender spun quickly to poke the ball home as the keeper attempted to block the shot. The red and white half of Wembley went wild and the Gunners now sensed blood. They could have even won the game in normal time when Sanogo found Gibbs at the far post, but the left back could only fire over the bar, when it seemed easier to score. Then Giroud tested McGregor with a low volley before Sanogo fired just wide with seconds left.

In similar fashion to Arsenal’s previous Wembley visit, the semi-final against Wigan, the Gunners could not get the job done in normal time and so the game went into extra time. As Hull tired further, Wenger’s men had all the possession and should have taken the lead when Ramsey’s wonderful cross found Giroud at the back post, but the Frenchman saw his headed effort bounce back off the crossbar with McGregor beaten all ends up.

Just before the second period of extra time, Wenger made the bold decision to take off two potential penalty takers in Ozil and Cazorla, replacing them with the fresh legs of Wilshere and Rosicky. It turned out to be an inspired decision as Hull simply could not live with the fresh impetus provided by these two changes. With 109 minutes played, Arsenal finally took the lead for the first time. Giroud showed phenomenal touch and vision as his back heel was weighted perfectly for Ramsey to fire low past McGregor and make Arsenal dreams come true. It was a wonderful moment as the Welshman collapsed to the floor and was mobbed by his teammates. The Gunners were now within touching distance of that elusive trophy and not even Mertesacker’s slip and Fabianski’s decision to race off the line could deny them as Sone Aluko’s subsequent effort thankfully sailed wide of goal.

The referee’s final whistle was greeted with delirium and huge relief. Nine years of hurt, anger and frustration were finally over. Suddenly a season which saw the Gunners finish only seven points off the top and win an FA Cup could be deemed a success and one which could be built upon. Who’s the specialist in failure now Mourinho? This was a vital moment in the history of this club. Winning that first trophy was always going to be the most difficult. Make no mistake, Arsenal are back. The pressure has been lifted and the squad now know what it feels like to be successful in an Arsenal shirt. If Wenger is now able to supplement the squad with three or four quality signings then they could well sustain a title challenge next season.  

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