Arsenal win the FA Cup - Arsenal 3 Hull 2: Winner Arsene Wenger no longer looks back in anger
Arsenal manager’s career was on the line before extra-time yet he calmly made tactical points with bottles. Now, having lifted a trophy at last, the search for perfection will resume immediately
Saturday 17 May 2014
The surge of euphoria was worth every single second of the 3,282 days in the wilderness. It compensated for every sleepless night and each shattered dream. Arsenal were winners again in improbably dramatic fashion which will guarantee immortality.
Aaron Ramsey genuflected before history after scoring the most important goal of his career, 18 minutes into extra-time in one of the classic modern FA Cup finals. He formed a star shape, just as Charlie George had done in having a decisive influence on the 1971 final.
His response was understandably emotional and revealingly selfless. He spoke of a fantasy fulfilled, and dedicated the 3-2 victory to Arsène Wenger, a manager who, after nine long years, was finally protected from baseless jibes that he is somehow a specialist in failure.
Wenger admitted another high-profile defeat would have been “terrible”, and though he was ambiguous about whether that would have ended his 18-year tenure at a club which enshrines his most cherished principles, he confirmed he will sign a new contract. Victory changed everything.
The slightly shop-soiled figure who thrust the Cup at hordes of cavorting fans had his white shirt untucked and a beatific smile on his worry-worn face. His players risked the impertinence of dousing him in champagne, and giving him the bumps.
Wenger has broken a link to a very different world in which Twitter had not been invented and the airwaves were mercifully free from the stage-managed pap of Britain’s Got Talent. He no longer needs to look back in anger at 2005 and reminders of his last trophy win.
Typically, he admitted Ramsey’s goal saved Arsenal from themselves. He did not allow a stunning response to adversity to obliterate the horrors of the opening 12 minutes, by which time his team could so easily have been three goals behind.
It took only 190 seconds for James Chester to give Hull the lead and for nagging doubts about the intestinal fortitude of a collection of technically gifted under-achievers to return. Their lack of rigour, concentration and commitment at a series of set-pieces was damning.
Wenger had selected on sentiment, giving Lukasz Fabianksi his last appearance before leaving the club. The strategy seemed flawed when the reserve goalkeeper dived inside his near post, which was struck by Alex Bruce’s header from another poorly contested corner.
He was as helpless as a dolphin caught in the nets of a passing trawler as Curtis Davies conquered his surprise and converted the rebound. Wenger, whose pallor is ashen at the best of times, had a ghostly demeanour as he indulged in a desultory, disapproving wave at linesman Mick McDonough.
The Frenchman’s assistant Steve Bould, whose playing career was built upon the virtues that had vanished before his eyes, was prevented from making a more strident, if equally baffling point, by fourth official Kevin Friend.
The magnitude of the challenge, implicit in the initial anger of the Arsenal fans, and the extent of Hull’s opportunity, captured by Steve Bruce chugging down the touchline like a human equivalent of Stephenson’s Rocket, provided a compelling answer to those grey souls who suggest survival is salvation in the modern game.
The winners received little more than loose change in this era of obscenely rewarded mediocrity in the Premier League, but the value of redemption was beyond measure. There was also, amidst the contrasting angst and hope, a sense of perspective. Both sets of fans paid impressive homage to the victims of the Bradford disaster at the appointed time, the 56th minute of a captivating match.
Hull have clambered back from the brink. Their isolation is not simply geographical; it seemed spiritual in today’s company because they retain an affinity with their humble roots. Their narrow failure will be galling, but survivable.
It will take more than silversmiths, making only the third trophy in the competition’s history, to add long-term lustre to one of the FA’s few financial assets. But this final, which carried echoes of Everton’s retrieval of a similar deficit in 1966, was an exclamation point to the domestic season rather than a comma.
Wenger talks, passionately and with increasing exasperation, of the undervalued nature of his team’s consistency, character and quality. Champions League qualification, as ever the strategic goal, has been achieved for the 17th successive season, but this comeback will have greater resonance.
Santi Cazorla’s first-half free-kick and Laurent Koscielny’s 70th-minute equaliser enabled Ramsey to confirm his status as a talismanic figure. Better teams would have closed out the game with greater efficiency than Hull but, once again, Arsenal can dare to dream.
They led the Premier League for longer than their natural rivals and finished only seven points behind Manchester City despite a crisis of confidence. They are in good hands.
The memory lingers, not on Wenger’s bemused participation in the post-match celebrations, but on the image of him on his haunches in a huddle near the touchline. The game, arguably his career, was on the line, yet he calmly used water bottles to make a tactical point to his players before the match entered extra-time.
His search for perfection will resume on Sunday morning.
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