Comment and Analysis @MatthewStanger
After eight minutes of Saturday's FA Cup final, it looked like Arsenal had blown another shot at silverware. But this team keeps proving its resilience and deserves praise for a season of genuine progress, writes Matt Stanger...
Last Updated: 17/05/14 9:42pm
Nine years is a long time for a club of Arsenal's stature to wait for a trophy, but the 63 minutes Hull City led the Gunners on Saturday will have felt even longer. Arsenal were pushed all the way by the underdogs, just as they were against Wigan in the semi-final, but again they fought back to triumph. Fourth place and the FA Cup: this has been an excellent season at the Emirates.
The build-up to the game served as a painful trip down memory lane for Arsenal supporters, taking in the occasions in which they have been so close to silverware but narrowly fallen short. Now there is no reason to dwell on those past failures. At the time of writing, it is roughly five minutes since Arsenal last won a trophy and, as Arsene Wenger said at full-time, this is a pivotal moment for a team that is moving in the right direction.
To Wenger's credit, he has always focused on the future. His shortcomings have been analysed against the afterglow of his previous achievements, but his intention has always been to build for a brighter future. The problem has been the lack of tangible success in the present, but that frustration has now been largely eradicated. "I'm very happy for the players because I think it was a turning point in the lifespan of this team," said the manager in his post-match interview. "To know they can win in that way was very important."
It was not a surprise, however, not merely because Arsenal are clearly a superior side to their stubborn opponents, with their quality eventually shining through. We have seen the Gunners demonstrate their resilience on many occasions throughout the season, something that should not be forgotten amid those lunchtime capitulations. Arsenal have undoubtedly kicked on this year, spending 128 days at the top of the Premier League until injuries unfortunately, but rather predictably, curtailed their title fight.
The issues over the club's strength in depth are something Wenger must address over the summer, certainly more so than last year when Mesut Ozil's blockbuster deadline-day arrival hid the lack of reinforcements elsewhere. But now is not the time to blame the manager for those mistakes. Instead, it is appropriate to praise Wenger for a remarkable and unwavering faith in his players that has finally been repaid. "I've praised many times the spirit of this team and I'm very proud of that today," he said as the achievement began to sink in.
Spirit was a crucial factor on a day when ability wasn't always in abundance, but it was talent that told in the end. Olivier Giroud was a frequent source of frustration in the first half, but it was his cute back-heel that assisted the winning goal. Just as his deft flicks played a part in Jack Wilshere's goal of the season against Norwich, and set up Tomas Rosicky for another superb team goal against Sunderland, Giroud's ingenuity once again made the difference.
It was fitting that Ramsey found himself driving on to Giroud's pass, but that assessment suggests an element of fortune. Perhaps it would be better to say it was expected that Ramsey, at the end of his phenomenal campaign, would be the player to surge forward one more time in search of history. If only he had remained fit for the full season, that seven-point gap to Manchester City would certainly be shorter.
Of course, Arsenal made it difficult for themselves against a Hull side who have lost only twice from winning positions in all competitions - with a 2-0 lead surrendered on both occasions - but the story would have been far less enchanting had they cruised to victory. "We wanted to make history and win the game and we made history in both ways," said Wenger. "How not to start a cup final and how to come back."
There is added satisfaction for Wenger in Arsenal remaining committed to their own style. After parking the bus to beat Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup final, the manager revealed that he could not fully enjoy the occasion after betraying his values. Saturday's achievement was much more palatable, at the end of a run in which Everton were blitzed at the Emirates and Liverpool were made to pay for the 5-1 mauling they inflicted on the Gunners at Anfield.
"I am confident that at the end of May, we will all be happy," said Wenger in October and, despite another roller coaster campaign of ups and downs, his prescience is a fair reflection. Wenger is not the specialist in failure that the trophyless Jose Mourinho claimed in February; but neither would many argue that he still 'knows' in the manner that reassured supporters in the bleakest moments of the club's trophy drought. What he has achieved is to convince everyone that this Arsenal team is moving forward under his guidance, and his mooted new three-year contract has been ratified by a cup victory that should engender optimism.