That’s the way we won the Cup
With a nick knack paddy whack
Give the dog a bone
Aaron Ramsey poked one home”
The 3,283 days long wait for silverware is finally over for Arsenal. The clock ticking down the time since Arsenal last won a trophy has been reset and the city of London has been painted again. Ironically, the so called ‘Specialist in Failure’ is the only manager in the English capital who has gone on to lift a major honor this season.
There was a wide gamut of emotions on display at the Wembley yesterday, as Arsenal fans went from being euphoric to shell-shocked and then back to their reverie again. After seeing their title challenge go for a toss, post heavy defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool, there was little hope that Arsene Wenger could salvage any glory this season, apart from a top 4 finish. With Manchester City out of the chase, thanks to Wigan Athletic, it was an open chase for Arsenal to win their first major honor since the 2005 FA Cup.
And against a bullish Hull side led by former Man United player, Steve Bruce, Arsenal plunged themselves into hell within the first 25 minutes but rose back up to kiss the silver in extra-time, with a stunning goal from the Welshman, Aaron Ramsey.
Arsenal 3-2 Hull City
Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla (Rosicky 105′), Ozil (Wilshere 105′), Podolski (Sanogo 61′), Giroud.
Subs from: Szczesny, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Wilshere, Monreal, Flamini, Sanogo.
Hull City: McGregor, Elmohamady, Rosenior (Boyd 102′ ), Davies, Bruce (McShane 67′ ), Chester, Livermore, Meyler, Fryatt, Quinn (Aluko 75′ ), Huddlestone.
Subs from: Figueroa, Koren, McShane, Boyd, Sagbo, Harper, Aluko.
Bruce’s tactics evident as Arsenal’s problems with set-pieces resurface
For much of the past nine years, the Arsene Wenger teams have been ridiculed for messing up set pieces. Well, this includes converting from a spot-kick and defending against one too. And the first 10 minutes of last night’s game were an exact repetition of this nightmare that has continued to haunt Arsenal fans and players alike for a seemingly long while now.
Arsenal were delivered a stunning blow as Hull went up by 2 goals within the first ten minutes, courtesy of James Chester and Curtis Davies. Hull deserve some credit for the the first move which caught Arsenal off the guard. Stephen Quinn found an unmarked Tom Huddlestone on the edge, who sent a way ward shot towards the goal, but was ultimately tucked in by the alert Chester.
Five minutes later, Alex Bruce’s header bounced off the post, but was slotted back in perfectly by Curtis Davies with a smooth finish past Lukasz Fabianksi. Soon after, Arsenal were saved from the ignominy of conceding yet another, when Alex Bruce headed back across goal, only for Keiran Gibbs to send it away to safety.
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Steve Bruce’s tactics were evident in the early minutes of the first half: increase the frustration, contain the opposition and rely heavily on counter-attacks. The tried and signature Steve Bruce 3-5-2 was deployed with a malicious attempt to prevent Arsenal from pressing forward with their slick passing game.
The wing-backs, Ahmed Elmohamedy and Liam Rosenior were bullish going upfront and contained the likes of Sagna and Gibbs successfully, limiting the space Arsenal needed to open up their attacks. With Giroud the lone-man up front, the Frenchman was comfortably hassled around by the three-man defense led by Curtis Davies.
With the threat up front nullified, the Hull City defense continued marching up front, successfully containing Arsenal in their own half for the majority of the first 30 minutes. Well into the game, Ozil and Podolski swapped their positions on the left flank to befuddle their markers and create some chances.
Oh, Santi Cazorla…
Bereft of pace and dominant spells of possession, Arsenal continued attempts to press up front and ultimately settle into a groove. Arsenal desperately needed to find a goal and it came after 17 minutes, when the diminutive Santi Cazorla whipped in a free-kick past the outstretched Allan McGregor.
Post this moment, the game was a test of perseverance for either side, as Arsenal managed to settle into a groove, with Hull trying to surge ahead on the counter-attack. A couple of other nervy moments for Arsenal ensued with Ozil missing a chance, after Podolski set him up well inside the box.
Four – Four – Two
The 2nd half didn’t start any better as Arsenal were unable to find space but kept pressing on to wear down the Tigers.
Yaya Sanogo was summoned to the pitch in the 61st minute in place for Lukas Podolski, and the Gunners switched to a 4-4-2, with Santi Cazorla and Ozil deputizing from the flanks. This partnership upfront allowed Arsenal to stretch Hull’s defense and saw Olivier Giroud being freed from the clutches of the three man defense. Yaya Sanogo was a spirited option up front, running the channels, affording Arsenal the pace they craved so desperately. Ozil and Gibbs ganged up the left flank, to force the thug-like Elmohamedy into tracking backwards. Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta continued to run their operations at the heart of the entire affair, with the Welshman combining in attack with the strikers.
With the pressure building on, and Bruce departing due to injury, Davies almost conceded a penalty when he brought down the surging Cazorla in the 69th minute. Arsenal soon equalized from a seemingly debatable corner with Sagna’s deflected header falling to Koscielny, who slotted the ball home calmly. Arsenal continued to surge forward, pushing Hull into withdrawal until full-time with little success.
Smart late substitutions by Wenger do the trick
The second interval of extra-time saw Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky replace Ozil and Cazorla. Fresh feet helped the cause as Arsenal’s midfield maestro’s had tired from their efforts.
Wilshere and Rosicky, both noted for their excellent dribbling abilities and ability to dictate tempo of the game masterminded the second half, creating a number of chances, that went in vain. Wilshere eventually managed an incisive pass to Sanogo who played it to his compatriot upfront, only for Giroud to back-heel it to the surging Aaron Ramsey who finished the affair with his signature panache. And if there is a man at Arsenal who deserves the Cup, as much as Arsene Wenger, it has to be Aaron Ramsey.
Where does this leave them?
With the season ending on a high-note, many Arsenal fans will be temporarily beguiled into a sense of victory as Arsenal have managed to exorcise their haunting of nine years. A long summer lays ahead, and Wenger must only build upon this success and gun for more domestic glory. European success has always been a per-chance affair for Arsenal and with this young squad, it is important that Arsenal must only proceed ahead a step at a time. If the right signings are made this summer, most importantly in defense and up-front, Arsenal will have a squad that could be in contention for domestic Cup as well as League glory.
For Hull City, it was never about the prize, but purely the pride. Reaching the FA Cup final is never an agenda, it was a massive bonus, one they can be rightly proud of. The fact that the Tigers reached Wembley and allowed fans to actually believe they could do the unthinkable, is something supporters will keep with them for the rest of their lives.
Writer’s Note: I want to dedicate this piece to all the Arsenal fans in Mumbai, who made the FA Cup screening an electric affair last evening.
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