FA Cup: How Arsenal chucked the monkey off their backs
Exactly 9 years ago, a Frenchman, pictured below, stepped up to take a penalty. It was the FA cup final between Arsenal and Manchester United. The match was deadlocked at 0-0 after 120 minutes offootball and it went into penalties.The score of penalties was tied at 4-4, and Arsenal, having had the chance to take the last penalty, knew that a successful penalty kick would win them the cup. Arsenal captain, Patrick Vieira, stepped up, and calmly slotted the ball past Manchester United keeper. The whole stadium erupted in joy; players went insane as Arsenal won their 10th FA cup trophy, the oldest competition in football.
Unfortunately, that proved to be Patrick Vieira’s last kick for Arsenal as he was sold to Juventus the following summer. Then came the period when the club had some financial constraints (due to purchase of a new stadium), while, at the same time, rival clubs were taken over by the billionaires of Russia and Qatar. Hence, with unlimited spending power, they bought the players they wanted while Arsenal had to sell the players to make the profit.
Due to lucrative salaries and better chances of winning something, many of the Arsenal stars left for the rivals, questioning the loyalties and breaking the hearts of so many Arsenal fans. That resulted in losses in finals, blowing up the chances to win the leagues, defeats to the oppositions who should never have beaten Arsenal and in turn, a 9 years of trophy drought. The fans had to endure so many 'The last time Arsenal won the league' jokes.
Let's fast forward the time to 17th May 2014. It was the day of the FA Cup final. D-day for Arsenal as some might have said. We were just 90 (or possibly 120) minutes away from laying our hands on silverware, chuck the trophy drought monkey off our backs, and mark our authority in English Football. The opponents were Hull City, an average team to be honest. Everyone expected us to win and hence, there was a huge pressure on us. Even Arsenal's longest serving manager put his job on stake, meant he would leave if we fail to win. It was make or break for us. For me, this was my second final in my 5 years of goonerhood (needless to say we lost the first one). I hadn't seen Arsenal winning anything since I started supporting them; hence this was the biggest occasion for me as well.
The match started, just 3 minutes inside it and Hull scored from a corner. It was a fortunate goal I would say; a miss-hit ball fell to one of their players who diverted it home. Arsenal were shell shocked. They didn't see this coming.
The game restarted, players might have thought ‘OK, it’s just one goal. Let’s move on and try to play our own game’. We then tried to control the game by stringing 2-3 passes together, but failed to do so. In the eighth minute, Hull scored another from a set-piece, a proper goal this time. The scoreboard read Arsenal 0-2 Hull. Arsenal’s frailties against set pieces were evident again. ‘When will they learn? Will they ever learn?’ I gasped. We tried to defend by Zonal Marking for both the set pieces and failed. Players couldn't understand what was going around them. The manager looked dejected. I was watching the match with my cousin who also happens to be an Arsenal fan. We both looked at each other, couldn't believe what we were seeing. I prayed so much for Arsenal before the match and even asked them not to screw it up this time. However, being 2-0 down in the final, against the team like Hull, was unexpected for me even in my worst nightmarish scenario. I was even thinking to reconsider my life.
The match went on, again they attacked and we struggled. If it wasn't for last ditch headed clearance from Kieran Gibbs, the score would have been 3-0. My heart missed a bit at that moment. We all know it had been well and truly over had they scored another. I was like, 'we are not ready; please restart the match, Please!’ The only positive thing about the match was the time. It was only 12 minutes and I knew we had enough time to react. But the question was, ‘will we?’ The ghosts of away days of Etihad, Anfield and StamfordBridge started haunting. I kept convincing myself by saying, ‘This is Hull City and not Manchester one. It can’t be one of those days.’
We then tried to control the game; it looked like only one player was interested in playing. Santi Cazorla, a 29 years old Spaniard. He made the forward runs, tried to take the shots, tried to make the midfield tick. In doing that, he was fouled by an opponent player. A free kick was awarded by referee, Lee Probert, 25 yards away from the goal. Santi stepped up to take the free kick. We didn't score a goal from a FK all season so, no one expected us to convert it. Santi took a few steps back, jogged forward and smacked the ball. It flew over the opposition wall, took a curl and went into the top corner after kissing keeper's gloves. BANG! Suddenly the stadium became alive and the game was on! We announced ourselves onto the pitch. Celebration gestures of Santi resembled those of Gerrard when he scored the first goal against AC Milan in 2005 CL final (typical‘Come on’ gestures). Those gestures alone gave me Goosebumps. However,they all knew there was a mountain to be climbed.