Well, we did it the hard way of course but we did it, we’re going to Wembley! (again)
As expected by the world, the FA Cup semi final consisted of Wigan setting up to frustrate Arsenal & then attack with whatever pace they could in hope of capitalising on an inevitable Arsenal mistake, which they did. Despite all our efforts to delay Jordi Gomez, he tucked away his penalty well to give Wigan a shock lead with half an hour remaining. ‘I’m done.’ was my exact tweet at the time, I thought it would be another humiliation on the big stage for Arsenal after we had missed a few good chances through Sanogo.
With 8 minutes left after an intense spell of domination where we hit the post twice, I thought we were done once and for all. The keeper wasn’t going to be beaten and our already fragile mental strength was about to be destroyed irreparably but no, Mr Mertesacker had different ideas. Pouncing on a miss hit shot from the Ox, he was played on side luckily to head home the rebound & level the tie. Unfortunately I left for work at full time but nervously arrived there to see we had won on penalties. We now face Hull City in the final who won their semi final 5-3, so they must absolutely not be underestimated.
It’s been 3 years since we last played a cup final and its fair to say that the pressure to win is far greater this time than before. Before we had our best team available at the time besides 3 players (Vermaelen, Fabregas & Walcott), at the moment it seems we will only be missing Walcott for this final meaning there are less excuses or reasons if we do lose. The likes of Ozil, Koscielny & Wilshere will all be back and this only adds pressure because we will essentially be full strength. I don’t know why, but I just have the feeling our time has finally come. Yes Hull City will be tough & they have dangerous players, but on paper Wigan actually had more as well as the experience of winning the cup less than a year ago. 90 minutes, that’s how far we are from totally evolving as a club.
I cannot state how beneficial winning the FA Cup will be for the whole club but the players especially. If the players want it enough, which I’m sure they do, then they are masters of their own fate. 90 of their best minutes against a lesser but tricky team and they end the clubs 9 year wait for a trophy, winning it will escalate the club on so many levels. Top players will see us as a club where they can win silverware again not just play nice football, off field matters like sponsorship deals will improve as the club becomes more valuable & marketable with success but most importantly our players get to look at each other as champions for the 1st time. Look at Man City, they targeted the FA Cup to end their drought and it gave them the belief to win the league the following season. I’m not saying we will do the same but the players will have that extra edge & swagger that players need in an abundance to not only avoid big defeats in big games, but to actually win big games. This will be the catalyst for the players to improve by proving to themselves that they can win and by removing the pressing need to win trophies, they will come more naturally once we get the 1st because they now know it can be done and the extra confidence will make us harder to beat.
The 90 minute evolution does not only depend on the FA Cup of course, it depends on 3 other factors for me which are injuries, tactics and signings. You could argue that we dropped out of the title race due to lack of or bad luck in 1 of the 3 factors, or to a combination of all 3. For example, with less injuries we could have won the league or with 2/3 more signings we would have gone all the way. Unfortunately none can be proven but all 3 played their part in our league downfall, lack of signings meant players were overplayed (Ramsey/Walcott), this then lead to injuries which meant less rotation could and therefore players became more tired and then a lack of tactics combined with mass injuries & no booster/cover signings in January meant we fell away. However in my opinion, the tactics argument is tricky on all parts because Wenger’s lack of preparation & awareness played into opposing teams hands but then you could argue that Arsenal footballers should have enough knowledge or even common sense to do things like keep things simple early on, track runners & press players rather than allow them space. Again, a combination of 3 factors all came together to create our downfall. Wenger could prepare all year for 1 game but if a single player switches off or makes a mistake then it all gets thrown out the window. My personal view is that even our squad players are good enough to win big games, we just need a better tactical approach from both the manager and players.
Photo by Dave Pearce