Arsenal only know how to do things the hard way
It was so very Arsenal. Even as they ended their nine-year wait for silverware and brought Arsene Wenger’s wilderness years to an end, it was so quintessentially Arsenal.
In triumph, they flirted with failure. In glory, they showed their defects. This was a microcosm of nine years, of the agony and the ecstasy, of the times when Wenger’s philosophy seemed fundamentally flawed and the moments when it is wonderfully seductive.
Consider their winner, fashioned by Olivier Giroud with a beautiful backheel, scored by Aaron Ramsey, the embodiment of Wenger’s ethos of trusting young talent and improving able players.
Think, too, of the defensive errors that allowed Hull City a two-goal lead after eight minutes and the shaky goalkeeping from Lukasz Fabianski that almost afforded them a late equaliser.
There is a reason Arsenal supporters seem permanently on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown. They do not do things the easy way.
There is the ever-present sense of fragility. Arsenal can win high-pressure games, but there is rarely the sense of certainty that they will and, in knock-out competitions, there is the feeling they won’t.
After losing to Birmingham City, Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers in recent years, after overcoming Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton en route to Wembley, it was somehow typical that they stumbled at the start against Hull. This was the Arsenal of stereotype, the side with a soft underbelly, the team whose fondness for the beautiful game can lead them to neglect the basics.
The ease with which Alex Bruce, all 5ft 11ins of him, won headers in Arsenal’s penalty area was damning. The way that Lukas Podolski wandered away from James Chester, or that Curtis Davies was left unmarked, added to the case for the prosecution.
And yet there are two Arsenals.
There is the Arsenal that finishes in the top four every year, the side that shows the spirit to end every season strongly. When they trailed, Arsenal’s urgency was apparent, along with the feeling that, even if they do not quite know how or what, everyone is determined to make something, anything happen. It is not the Arsenal of precision passing, but the Arsenal of desperate determination.
The sense of pent-up frustration was apparent in Santi Cazorla’s cathartic celebration after he halved the deficit. It was a free kick dispatched with a thump, not curled and caressed.
There was the scrappy second, too, as once again Arsenal secured salvation from their centre-backs. Per Mertesacker scored the semi-final equaliser. Laurent Koscielny delivered the final leveller. It was fitting, too, that after a nine-year delay, Arsenal were held up for a further 30 minutes.
Their extra-time impetus came courtesy of Ramsey; when others tired, he seemed to grow stronger. His sixth shot of the added period finally brought the breakthrough, the man wearing No 16 delivering his 16th goal of the season.
Hull, defiant for so long, were worn down. Wenger, Jose Mourinho’s supposed “specialist in failure”, had ended the season with more silverware than his Chelsea counterpart.
Only George Ramsay, whose reign at Aston Villa spanned the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, has won the FA Cup more often as a manager than Wenger. His players broke with tradition by passing him the trophy before many of them had touched it.
They, like everyone else, were conscious of its significance. Wenger’s subsequent, declaration that he is staying was concrete; suspicion became certainty, an illusion of progress rubber-stamped by silverware and stability. “I always wanted to stay,” he said.
His Hull counterpart, Steve Bruce, voiced the views of many. “The fella is a top-class manager,” he said. “Why he gets stick, I do not know.”
The nine-year wait was a reason, but the scenes at the end when the club mascot, Gunnersaurus, gatecrashed the celebrations like a big, furry green David May, bouncing around with Podolski and Mesut Ozil, showed it is over. Arsenal have won a trophy.
It is so very unlike them.
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Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM