I will keep it quick. This was a typical, typical Arsenal victory. It was typical that we let in two goals within the first fifteen minutes. It was typical that Hull defended with their lives, making it difficult for every Arsenal player to find a simple pass. It was typical in the way Hull tracked every run ever made by an Arsenal forward. It was typical in the way Arsenal took the lead in the 108th minute of football, and still managed to give a heart attack to every single fan watching. All’s well that ends well, though, and the smiles on the players’ faces said everything. This is what made everything worthwhile.
Arsenal began with Fabianski in the goal. The rest of the team basically picked itself. The substitutes, as you will see, were Wenger’s aces in the hole. Hull started with a 3 man defense with 2 wing backs providing the service out wide.
The game started slowly, like Ali rearing himself up slowly before landing a sickening punch to the gut. The punch was a set-piece in the 4th minute. A corner played high and outside the box was softly volleyed in by a Hull player. Just when you were saying that it was reminiscent of a horse kicking out in anger, Hull central defender 1 turned it in past Fab’s outstretched arm.
Cue self-encouragement from every Arsenal fan around the globe. Surely Arsenal would easily overcome a single goal lead? That’s what the Hull players thought as they prepared to land the second sickening punch to the gut. Zonal marking went into the dumps as shell-shocked defense completely failed to deal with a curled-in free kick, and the header from Hull central defender 2 went in off the post. 8 minutes, 2 goals down.
Not so bad, you say. Two-goal leads overturned have not been unheard of. The thought must have crossed Hull players’ mind as well. Off yet another corner, Hull central defender 3 had another header. Gibbs produced, for me, the turning point of the match when he cleared the looping header off the line at the far post.
The game did not get any easier to watch with every Hull player making it a point to give away niggling fouls which halted Arsenal’s fluidity as effectively as a clump of garbage in a clogged-up pipe. Off one of these fouls, with Podolski and Cazorla standing over it, Cazorla curled in a sumptuous free-kick into the Hull goal to finally get Arsenal off the mark. The commentator went “Cathorlaaaaaaa”, as McGregor, the Hull keeper saw the ball slightly late, and failed to deal with the powerful kick close to the far post. The goal, I kid you not, was important. It was essential to get the first goal before the half-time to leave Arsenal a glimmer of hope.
The stop-start nature of the game continued as Arsenal, thereafter, enjoyed almost total domination without creating a single chance of note. The second half continued in the same fashion as the first ended, with Arsenal enjoying sterile domination.
Half chances came and went, and thus the game went on till Arsene finally played his card. Yaya Sanogo came on for the ineffective Podolski in the 61st minute, changing the formation to a more aggressive 4-4-2. It was an inspired substitution. Sanogo’s enthusiasm was amazing to watch as Arsenal’s game suddenly came together. Half chances slowly inched towards a clear cut chance as passes started finding Arsenal players and moves started coming off. You could be forgiven for thinking that a goal was in the offing, and 10 minutes later, the crucial equalizer finally came through – again from a set piece.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Frenchman. Laurent Koscielny has made a habit out of scoring the most vital of goals from identical positions within the penalty box. A corner ricocheted off Sagna and Giroud and landed fortunately in front of Koscielny. A swivel and a half-touch squeezed the ball through the keeper and a clutch of defenders for the all-important second goal.
Arsenal upped the tempo suddenly, and the third goal was a whisker away. Sanogo chased a ball down the right and got a shot away. A defender blocked it and Sanogo played the ball across to a completely unmarked Gibbs. Gibbs unleashed a shot which will definitely give him and a couple of viewers in Row Z some nightmares. A terrible miss from inside the penalty box.
The second half ended with Arsenal very much in the ascendancy, and Hull players really feeling the heat in terms of stamina and cramps. The first half of extra time brought no changes, and Arsenal, apart from playing much of the same football, had a header from Giroud crash off the crossbar and bounce away to Hull safety.
In the break between the two halves of extra time, Arsene, played the aces up his sleeve. Off came Cazorla and Ozil for Rosicky and Wilshere. The latter pair added tremendous zip to Arsenal’s forward play and the Hull defense just could not cope with their pace and intelligence. One-touch football became the norm as Giroud played a sumptuous back-heel to Ramsey who delicately shot low with the outside of his boot. The ball went in at the near post past the keeper sending the team and all the fans worldwide into a frenzy of celebration. The comeback was complete. Who else but Ramsey could deserve to score the winner. Jesus, the Welsh Jesus, has simply been immense this season. It was also fitting that the winner came off a move of beautiful, one-touch football – the Arsenal way.
There was still time for a moment to be spent in suspended animation. Mertesacker slipped, Fabianski found himself miles out of his goal on the right, and a Hull forwarded found himself on the flanks with the ball at his feet. His effort from wide out slipped agonizingly wide when a square pass would have broken Arsenal’s back in the match. The gods were kind and there were no further incidents of note apart from Sanogo having a few attempts on goal. Arsenal were content to play keep call until the whistle blew to rapturous cheers all across the Arsenal world.
We can analyze the advantages of winning the cup later. But for now, I have to say, this was one of the memorable Arsenal nights of my life. We made it to the final with great difficulty, facing several Premier League heavyweights along the way. The Liverpool match was played two weekends after the 5-1 drubbing at Anfield. We started the match with a celebration of all the titles we have thrown away with extreme carelessness by going a couple of early goals down. The spirit, determination and mental strength were in full display as we completed one of the greatest comebacks that we will ever remember.
Savour the moment, folks, as the season finally becomes a season to remember. The 9 year trophy doubt has come to a much-awaited end and now is the time we finally allow ourselves to dream of heights that we can achieve, to count ourselves among the elite of European and World football.
Onwards and Upwards.
P.S. The Special One, gazillion pounds, disgusting tactics, 15 players added in the summer, ZERO trophies.