Tag Archives: FA Cup

Wenger lifts the FA Cup

The magic of the Cup

It took a second before the reality of the goal set in. No one, not even the players on the pitch reacted in the way that players typically react when a goal goes in. But once I saw the ball spinning in the goal and the nets rippling I slumped into my couch. It was happening all over again.

Arsenal have this thing in big games where they can’t seem to overcome their own frailties and they make the same mistakes over and over again. Or at least that’s the perception and often times perception is stronger than reality and with this Arsenal team the perceptions of the sports writers and fans are that we are bottlers. So, there in my living room, I was watching Arsenal bottle a big game again.

And then the second goal came and I had to put my hands on my face to hide my shame. Two-nil down in the 8th minute of the FA Cup final and I could have cried. The Arsenal players visibly slumped. And when Hull nearly got a third but for the brilliant headed save from Kieran Gibbs* I honestly thought Arsenal were going to get blown out. 6-0 or something. The most humiliating loss in the history of histories. Everything was going to be criticized.

All the anger and frustration of 9 years of being told that we are just “one piece away” from glory. All the deferred gratification and of almost winning trophies welled up inside me. That second goal unleashed the anger of losing the Champions League final to Barcelona. I felt the frustration of losing the League Cup final against Chelsea. I felt the pain of losing the League in 07/08 when Arsenal fell apart in the aftermath of Taylor breaking Eduardo’s leg. And when Bruce won that looping header I felt the sharp sting of my own memory of Wembley, the League Cup final that Arsenal lost in the final minutes because of a Zigic header.

Perception, though, is not the same as reality. In the cold light of Monday morning, three days later I can watch those first two Hull goals and see that they were lucky. Hull may have worked that corner routine up in training but Huddlestone’s shot for the first goal was poorly taken and going well wide and but for the lucky deflection of Chester that would have been a harmless corner. And their second goal was scored from an offside position after a brilliant save by Fabianski.

But in the  moment, I was devastated. I hate using the word “gutted” but I felt like a gutted fish.

But cup finals are the kinds of games where players make a name for themselves. Charlie George didn’t really have a sparkling career at Arsenal but Charlie George will always be a legend because he scored that goal in the 1971 FA Cup final.

The same goes for Santi Cazorla. Cazorla has been a good player for Arsenal and one of my favorites last year. This year he seemed to struggle to get back into form and to develop a real partnership with Mesut Özil. But all that is irrelevant. None of it matters, because Cazorla scored the goal that started the comeback. When he struck that ball he unleashed more than just a wicked shot, I leapt out of my seat and screamed “YEEES”. It was a primal scream, like I was letting out the pent-up rage and frustration of those cup final failures of years past. Cazorla’s legend grew three sizes with that kick.

The same goes for Koscielny. Koscielny was already a fan favorite but when he scored the second goal to send the match into overtime I didn’t really need to scream. I had already spat out my anger and instead a calm came over me. I was ready now for Arsenal to win the cup. What I did feel on that goal was fear. Watching on the replays as McGregor scissor tackled Koscielny and seeing his ankle turn over dredged up all the fears of Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo, Shawcross on Ramsey, and countless tackles on Diaby. But Koz got up. Koz played on. And Koscienly’s legend grew three sizes.

Did Wenger’s legend grow three sizes with the win? I remember questioning his substitutions in the moment of the game but he got them all exactly right. Sanogo came on and played an integral part in the win — his energy on the pitch was unrivaled by any player on either team. Not only that but he was a huge pest to the Hull defense just pulling their center backs apart to create spaces for the Arsenal midfielders to run into. Taking Podolski off and putting Sanogo on was a huge gamble and it paid off.

Wenger took another gamble to start the second half of extra time, he hauled off Özil and Cazorla for Rosicky and Wilshere. I remember thinking that he’d lost his mind. But in retrospect, Wenger took off Arsenal’s two most creative players, who had been fatiguing, and put on two of Arsenal’s most energetic players. It worked perfectly. Sanogo was already giving the Hull defense fits with his constant movement, Rosicky and Wilshere were creating pockets of space all around the Hull box, and it looked like it was a plan tailored to get Ramsey shots in good positions. In that period after the 90th minute, Ramsey took 6 of Arsenal’s shots, clearly he was the focus of the team. And when Rosicky and Wilshere came on, Ramsey got the shot that sent Arsenal to cup heaven.

Ramsey’s goal was a moment of catharsis unlike any I have felt before. Aaron Ramsey in many ways symbolizes the post-Invincibles era Arsenal team. Bought as a youth player with huge potential, his career was nearly cut short by an horrific tackle from Ryan Shawcross. Despite overcoming that huge obstacle, he endured years of criticism at the hands of the media, the opposition fans, and his own fans. Arsene stayed true to Ramsey through all of it and as we started to learn more about this young man the one thing you could always count on with Ramsey is that he wouldn’t hide. When you needed a player to step up, Aaron Ramsey has always been there for Arsenal, even when we weren’t there for him.

Ramsey has had a real break out season this year. He won games for Arsenal at critical times: the Champions League qualifiers, the match against Dortmund and so on. And so it had to be Ramsey who put the team on his shoulders in the 100th minute of the FA Cup final and said “I got this.”

Of course he was going to be the one to score the goal. And of course the goal was going to be a back heel from Giroud, into the path of the onrushing Ramsey, who hit it on the volley, with the outside of his boot, short-siding the keeper. When that goal went in, I didn’t yell. I didn’t make a sound. I sat back on my couch with both hands on my face, choking back tears of relief.

Aaron Ramsey, the player who suffered so much physically and emotionally and did so always with dignity and always played with heart, won Arsenal the FA Cup. His legend didn’t grow three sizes, he is the legend now.

This whole team is legend now.

The cup itself is physically empty but as a symbol it is ready to be filled with whatever you want. That is the magic of the cup. Is it the vindication of Wenger’s long-term plan? Will the cup make recruitment easier this summer? Does the cup mean that Arsenal have sloughed off the tag of almost-winners? Is Cazorla now a free kick specialist? Is Koscienly’s ankle made out of titanium or something? Is Aaron Ramsey one of the best players to ever play for Arsenal? Does the cup mean that we will now kick on and win more trophies?

Yes yes yes yes yes yes…

Winning the FA Cup shows me that this team has the potential to do great things. Think about it, Arsenal won the FA Cup without a goal-scoring striker and with an ageing defensive midfielder. Imagine for a second if this core group of players had both the striker and the midfielder that Wenger tried to buy this summer?

I think the cup will help there as well. Luis Gustavo turned Arsenal down last summer to move to Wolfsburg. No matter how much we wish players would look at Arsenal and simply say “yes, that’s a big club, I join them” the reality is that Arsenal had an albatross hanging around our necks for the last nine years. Now that we’ve won the cup, and been top of the League for 128 days, we have proof that Wenger has built a team that can challenge for trophies.

But most important, it was inconceivable to me that Arsenal would be able to overcome a 2-0 deficit and win a final. I’ve posted the “Never in Doubt” picture on Twitter many times this year, but the truth is that I had doubt. Plenty of doubt, plenty of times. But now, an incredible cup run in which we swept aside Spurs, Everton, and Liverpool and won on a day we were 2-0 down has restored a great deal of my faith in the players and the manager.

That’s the magic of the cup.

Qq

*You know that when you put a player on the corner like that it’s called “zonal marking”.

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Manchester United v Arsenal

Norwich v. Arsenal: only one thing to play for. Plus: ticket prices hurt real people

Arsenal head into the final day of this wild season with only one thing to play for, or to play not for. Arsenal play Norwich at Carrow Rd. with the Canaries already relegated, with Arsenal settled into 4th place, and with an FA Cup final a week later so the only thing Arsenal have to play for is to not get injured.

Norwich have some prior in this regard, Bradley Johnson stomped on Sagna’s leg last year and the Arsenal fullback came up with a broken leg. There are many who forgive the Norwich midfielder because he tweets positively about Arsenal. We should give him the benefit of the doubt and just say that he’s oafish, I suppose. Oafish or injurious, let’s stay away from the oafs tomorrow so that we have a full squad for the final against Hull City.

It really is that simple. The FA Cup final is the chance for Arsenal to change the narrative from “hasn’t won a trophy in X years” to “hasn’t won a MAJOR trophy in X years” or “hasn’t won the Premier League since 2004.” It’s the chance to change this annus horribilis to an annus prosperitas. We need our whole team at 100% in order to steamroll over Hull City.

I know that we always play to win. I know that we are on a three match clean-sheet run. I know that we want to go into the FA Cup final with a team that is fresh and full of match day experience. I know that we want to respect the competition. I know that we want maximum points. I know that we want to show improvement from last year. I know that stuff and don’t care because I want Arsenal to win the FA Cup.

I want Arsenal to win the FA Cup for players like Koscielny. Koz is the latest in a long line to sign a long term deal with the club and secure the future of Arsenal. The partnership between Koscielny and Mertesacker has been very good this year as we have seen in the fact that Arsenal had 16 clean sheets this season and won 6 additional games by a 1-goal margin.

Koscielny’s career at Arsenal has had some rough patches and in many ways mirrors Arsenal’s last 4 years. That famous loss to Birmingham was probably the roughest patch for both club and player. No player deserves a win, they earn their wins (or sometimes they are gifted them!), and no team deserves a win. Wins are the culmination of hard work, talent, and perseverance. Arsenal and Koz have worked so very hard have persevered through so much, do they have the talent and the application to win one last time?

That we will find out in a week.

My schedule for the rest of the weekend is to publish a piece for Arseblog on Sunday after the game. I’ll be looking at the whole season in review and if you have some data you’d like uncovered let me know in the comments.

In other Arsenal news the club has announced a ticket price increase and fans are predictably in an uproar. Well, most fans. There is a strange group out there who are arguing in favor of the ticket price increase. I understand their argument, it’s the same that the club are making: the ticket prices are in line with inflation. I have even seen people argue that it is cheaper to go see a match at the Emirates than at Highbury, based on average cost of living.

Indulge my tangent for a second here. One thing all the economics arguments ignore is the human element to the club. I know so many Arsenal supporters who go to games more for the matchday experience of being with their friends than for the game itself. I once asked a friend in England how bad the club would have to play before he would quit going. He responded that it idn’t matter if they were relegated, he would still go. That was a surprise to me but I pressed him and asked what would make him stop going? He said “if my mates stopped going.”

Therein lies the real danger with raising ticket prices. Individuals, who have not been the beneficiaries of a rise in the average wage, or who for any number of reasons simply cannot afford £5 more or whatever… those people, real people, are going to have to give up their friends because of this price increase. Remember that when you’re making your “average price” arguments.

Arsenal aren’t going to price out the touts and the corporate types, and they aren’t increasing the prices so much that they are going to price out all the foreign fans who flock to the Emirates for our annual pilgrimages, they aren’t going to price out the fans who go to 10 games a season and sell on the rest of their ticket, and they aren’t going to outprice every one of the multitudes of great fans I’ve met there. But they are going to break up groups of friends, some of whom have been going to the games for decades, some of whom have been going to games for generations.

The coffers of Arsenal might be richer for that but the club is overall poorer when we lose a bit of our history.

Qq

Man at the match, Chary: Fabianski ushers Arsenal into the FA Cup final

A helter skelter match ended on penalties after full time and extra time couldn’t separate the Arsenal from the conquerors of Manchester City in the previous round, when Fabianski held his nerve to save the first two of five penalties so that four successful spot kicks from the good guys were enough to book a return trip to Wembley in May.

After a gap of over fourteen years between my last visit to Wembley to see Arsenal play and today I was hoping to see a victory for the Arsenal and although the build up to the game in the media and the Arsenal blogosphere ensured nerves kicked in a few pints at Mannion’s pub near the south entrance to Wembley helped settle those nerves.

Also plenty of Arsenal songs, not fit for a family blog, ensured a degree of alcohol induced bravado stayed with me till I took my seat in the upper tier behind the south goal, to the right of the managers dug outs.

As expected Wigan failed to sell their quota of tickets and many pockets/blocks of empty seats were visible in the Wigan end

In (some of) the blue corner - Wigan

In (some of) the blue corner – Wigan

Before kick off was the moments silence, although I heard applause also, to commemorate the tragic loss of life at an FA Cup semi final 25 years ago at Hillsboro, with 96 seats(to remember the 96 fatalities that day) kept empty.

Hillsborough 96 remembered

Hillsborough 96 remembered

The line up changes that were most significant were the addition of Rambo and Monreal (with the latter stepping in for Gibbs who was only fit enough for a bench place) and the replacement of Sanogo for Giroud, as seems to be the case for the FA Cup team selection with Fabianski the designated cup goalie.

From the start it was clear that Wigan’s form was on the up and Arsenal’s spluttering with no Arsenal player really catching the eye in the first half, except for flashes of Rambo’s tenacious drive with the ball when surging through the midfield. It was obvious the team have badly missed his forward motion in the midfield as without him it all looks very pedestrian, as several moans about our slow paced attacking attested to amongst the Arsenal supporters.

Something that did come across was that moaning about the team is not an age related thing or the preserve of the “I want it now” generation of youngsters. A pensioner next to me was totally negative all the way through the game and had decided we’d lose after seeing only ten minutes of the game; needless to say not one word of encouragement or singing for the team left his lips all the way through the game.

While Arsenal did create chances in the first half not too many clear cut chances were made, except for the cross that led to Sagna’s sliced shot over the bar, Wigan themselves looked hard working but not especially dangerous.

At the start of the second half as usual the boys in red and white upped the tempo and more free kicks corners accrued from the Ox who was growing in confidence or Santi who had seemed subdued in the first half.
It started to look like it could be one of “those days” when either the woodwork or a bit of good goal keeping was bound to keep the shots out when Arsenal appeared certain to score.

Inevitably a bit of controversy arrived to gift Wigan a goal, a foul on Monreal was not given and with the Arsenal players expecting a stop in play Wigan took advantage of the hesitancy to push into the penalty box and lead to the BFG making a penalty kick worthy challenge.

Indignation swept through the red end of Wembley due to frustration at the referee for not blowing for the foul or the injury and also slight annoyance at Wigan for not having kicked the ball out.
Monreal was taken off injured to be replaced by Gibbs and then eventually Gomez took a virtually unstoppable penalty, which Fabianski came close to keeping out, 1 nil to the Championship team.

As seems to be the case nowadays the Arsenal support is schizophrenic in that anger and dejection at the penalty was replaced by cheers at the restart trying to pick up the spirits of the players. However the jeers quickly returned when the Pod was subbed off when everyone thought the exasperating Sanogo would make way. The Pod had a quiet game while Sanogo seemed to show touches of skill which made you think “Where did that come from?” and then clumsy touches that would be maddening.

Olly came on and was greeted with, to the tune of the Van Judas “She said..” song:

“She said yes Giroud, she said yes”

While it’s hard to say he’s a top line striker it was immediately obvious Olly was better than Sanogo and his hold up play and flicks was leading to more and more dangerous attacks, including a header off the crossbar.

Finally a ball launched into the Wigan penalty area was diverted towards the BFG who bundled the ball into the net and atoned for his earlier penalty kick inducing mistake.

The relief was such that even the moaning pensioner stopped cursing he team although what he thought of my “F**k you Wigan” chant while the BFG celebrated in the goal in front of me, I’d rather not know.

Wigan heads dropped and they held on till full time despite Arsenal pushing for the winner in normal time, the Ox hitting the post and an acrobatic mid air goal line clearance from a Wigan defender when the red end were about to cheer the Gunner’s second goal.

Arsenal piling on the second half  pressure

Arsenal piling on the second half pressure

Annoyingly the referee blew for full time just when Olly was through and appeared to be held back by a Wigan defender which, if it had been an arsenal player doing the holding back, would have been a red for a professional foul.
Nonetheless the momentum was still with Arsenal and for both halves of injury time it was mainly Arsenal attacking, with Källström almost scoring with his first touch.

As with his appearance against Swansea Kim seems to have something about him that showed today also, a strength and precision in midfield that is probably what we need right now when, Flamini aside, our midfield is a tad lightweight and powder puff.

Wigan held on and the spectre of penalties came, the news that they would be taken in front of the Wigan end(the majority of photographers had been stationed at my end as it was the end Arsenal attacked and they scurried round the pitch to get to the other end) were greeted with moans of:

“We can’t even win the toss for the penalties!”

Beneath the raging tension in me I felt deep down there was a smidgen of hope in the calmness and authority Fabianski had shown in the game so far; an inkling that he could be the hero of the moment.

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

The Championship side took the first penalty and although I was not a great penalty it still had to be saved, the Wigan player sinking to the ground in defeat, something even I could see from the other end of the stadium.

First up for the good guys was Arteta, who was coolness personified with a regulation, text book penalty.
Wigan again tried to score in the shoot out and failed again, a slightly better Fabianski save this time and the Arsenal support dared to hope again.

Källström converted our second penalty with the minimum of fuss and pressure was back on Wigan who finally managed to notch a successful spot kick.

Even though Olly’s successful spot kick was preceded by a second successful Wigan kick all it needed was for Arsenal’s fourth penalty to go in and it would be all over

Up stepped Santi, he scored then scurried to the corner to celebrate with the team, out of relief more than anything and only then could Arsenal supporters in Wembley breathe again.

Santi celebrates deciding pk

Santi celebrates deciding pk

An incredibly hard fought game ended with the Gunners victorious and a date at Wembley in May meant we can now sing the following in earnest:

“What did she wear ?
She wore, she wore,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
In the merry month of May!
And when, I asked,
Oh why she wore that ribbon,
She said it’s for The Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!
Wembley,Wembley,
We’re the famous Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!”

By 17th of May with more injured players returning, especially Özzy, and Rambo getting back to his best we can expect a better performance than today with confidence also returning bit by bit.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)