On May 17 2014, Arsenal beat Hull City in extra time to win the FA Cup. This was the first major trophy that Arsenal won since the FA Cup final in 2005, beating Manchester United on penalties. That final was a poor performance by Arsenal, with most players and pundits conceding that United were the better side in that final.
“United had good moments, they had the ball most of the time. But we were strong and now we are the winners. It happens in football.”Gilberto Silva – May 21. 2005
Arsenal have come close to winning trophies since that match, progressing to the UEFA Champions League final the next season. Unfortunately a red card for Jens Lehmann left Arsenal on the back foot for most of that match. Despite scoring and putting on a very good performance, the disadvantage was too much to overcome.
Manuel Almunia was only signed to be a backup goalkeeper for Lehmann, and for most of the 2006 final he played very well. His distribution left a lot to be desired, but his shot stopping was very impressive until the 76th minute, when his poor positioning meant he let Samuel Eto’o score in the near post. Juliano Belletti scored 7 minutes later, finding the gap between the legs of the young spanish keeper.
Instead of criticizing the keeper, Wenger spoke out against the officials.
“The referee made a big mistake at a crucial moment – their first goal was offside. The way we lost is very difficult to take because we played fantastically, like we have the whole European season.”Arsene Wenger – May 17. 2006.
The following season, Arsenal had a remarkable run in the League Cup. They made it to the final, where they lost 2-1 to Chelsea. This run highlighted a lot of the young talent in the squad, serving as a prelude to what would become fairly commonplace in this competition. Júlio Baptista was a particular highlight of this competition, scoring 6 goals. This included 4 goals in a 6-3 triumph over Liverpool in the quarter final, and 2 more against Tottenham in the first leg of the semi final.
The final was memorable for a number of reasons. Theo Walcott scored his first Arsenal goal to give them the early lead. However, John Terry went for a diving header from a corner and – in an attempt to clear the ball – Terry was kicked in the head by Diaby. Terry was knocked out and was taken to the hospital, after being tended to by both Arsenal and Chelsea’s medical staff. After Chelsea went 2-1 up and the game reached its conclusion, tempers flared and 3 players were sent off for violent conduct.
“They played a very good game in my opinion. They beat Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham with this team. A special word for them – they played very good. They [have] a great coach, great players – but football is about winning and the cup goes to us.”Jose Mourinho – February 25. 2007
The following season, after a mini-exodus of top talent, Arsenal needed to rely on their younger players to step up. Freddie Ljungberg, José Antonio Reyes and Thierry Henry all left Arsenal and yet they were still able to mount a very promising title challenge. Arsenal spent the majority of the season at the top of the table, with Adebayor ending the season with 24 Premier League goals. Unfortunately. a challenge from Martin Taylor left Eduardo with a broken leg in a match against Birmingham City. Arsenal then failed to win their next 5 Premier League games and ended up 4 points off of top spot.
Many questions were asked about Arsenal’s mental strength following their capitulation that season. Furthermore, the financial powers of Chelsea and Manchester United were giving Arsenal problems in the transfer market. Arsenal had moved into the Emirates stadium 2 years earlier, and it was clear that Arsenal needed to sell players to pay for the cost of moving.
Arsenal were perceived as the team that could no longer compete.
However In 2010-11, Arsenal’s squad looked a lot stronger than in previous years. The likes of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie looked like players who were capable of pushing the team towards a title challenge. Their Premier League campaign was an unsuccessful one, coming 4th. Their Champions League run had a moment of excitement when Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1 in the home leg of their knockout tie, but they weren’t good enough in the away leg to progress.
Then there’s the League Cup final. A match against Birmingham, who would be relegated from the Premier League that season. Arsenal had 12 shots on target that day, only one that found the back of the net. Ben Foster had the performance of his life this match and his goalkeeping display enabled Birmingham to stay in the game and made Arsenal visibly nervous. A miscommunication between Wojciech Szczęsny and Laurent Koscielny gifted a late goal for Obafemi Martins and Arsenal failed once again to secure a trophy.
“Every year it always goes wrong in an identical way and that is frustrating. when you look at results in the last years, then Arsenal shouldn’t be talking about winning the league because too many times things have gone wrong”Robin Van Persie – June 11. 2011
That summer, Cesc Fabregas, Gaël Clichy and Samir Nasri all left Arsenal. The following summer, Alex Song and Robin Van Persie left the club. Arsenal desperately needed to rebuild. That season would be the turning point for Arsenal. The revenue gained from the sales of their top players, combined with successfully qualifying for the Champions League that season, and every season prior, meant that Arsenal had finally paid for the Emirates Stadium. They were able to make marquee signings.
In the summer of 2013, Arsenal were involved in the biggest transfer saga in English football. Luis Suarez was the player they wanted, but they failed to sign him. Arsenal fans instead were left frustrated at the infamous £40,000,001 bid, designed to trigger a release clause but was rejected anyway. They were even more frustrated after losing the first game of the season 3-1 to Aston Villa. Any hope of a title challenge that season seemed lost until transfer deadline day, when Arsenal managed to sign Mesut Özil for a club record fee of £42,500,000.
Arsenal looked phenomenal. They were top of the table for over half the season, and Aaron Ramsey seemed capable of scoring every game. Then February came, and Liverpool hosted Arsenal, and beat them emphatically 5-1. Arsenal proceeded to lose draw 3 and lose 3 of their next 8 games – including a 6-0 humiliation vs Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. A familiar story for Arsenal.
But they did make it to the FA Cup final, beating some tough opponents to get there. Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton all fell to a very impressive Arsenal and their opponents in the final were Hull City, who’d finished 16th in the Premier League that year.
Arsenal were comfortable favourites, but fans were not confident – memories of the 2011 League Cup final left doubt in the minds of any fan, pundit and probably some of the players too. Laurent Koscielny played a crucial part in the loss of the previous final, if anyone had reason to feel nervous it was him.
Hull started incredibly well, scoring twice within the first 10 minutes. Arsenal were stunned, but in the 17th minute, Santi Cazorla scored a free kick that calmed the nerves of many Arsenal players and fans alike. Arsenal had something to chase and Hull had a lead they desperately wanted to protect. Arsenal were denied 2 penalty claims in the second half, before Koscielny scored the equaliser in the 71st minute. The villain of the past was the hero of the present. It was an enthralling final, the score 2-2 after 90 minutes.
Arsenal pressed on in extra time, playing the fluid direct football Arsenal were known for in their more gloried past. They looked dangerous with every attack and the player of the season, Aaron Ramsey, gave Arsenal the lead in the second half of extra time. That wasn’t the final moment of the match though, as a slip from Per Mertesacker allowed Sone Aluko to attack the keeper Łukasz Fabiański, who rushed out and was beaten. Aluko shot, but shot wide of the post.
Arsenal won the FA Cup, and ended their 9 year wait for silverware.
Photo by Paul Hudson (2014)