May 15, 2014

FA Cup Preview: The Start, Not The Finish

This next couple of days leading up to our FA Cup final against Hull Tigers have us all scouring the interwebbins for memories and classic moments to get us pumped for the big day. Highlights of Charlie George laying on the turf after his winner in 1971. Ray Parlour's stunner against Chelsea in 2002. Alan Sunderland's last gasp goal against Man United in 1979. I could keep going, but that's a good start to get the adrenaline flowing.

My son was just a few months old the last time Arsenal lifted a trophy so, for him at least, this could be the beginning of a new era for Arsenal Football Club. I think most of us can look back and perhaps pin point a moment of glory that swayed us one way or the other when it came to supporting our club. Saturday could potentially be that day for some young Gooner out there. 

For established Gooners such as ourselves this is what football is all about. Granted, the FA Cup has perhaps been banished into the shadows of the Champions League over the last decade, but there's too much history behind this trophy for it to not be regarded as one of the greats.
This game is decided on one Saturday afternoon in May. There's no home and away, there's no replays, this is it. Wherever you are, whoever you're with, this game is guaranteed to stick with you for the rest of your life - hopefully with happy memories.

When Arsenal won the FA Cup against Manchester United back in 2005, in what may have been one of the dullest finals in history, there was a sneaking feeling that the squad was aging and we were no longer the force we had been years before. When we lost the Milk League Cup Final against Chelski back in 2007 we fielded our entire youth setup. And when we lost in the same competition just a few years later against Birmingham City in 2011, even regarded as favourites we still weren't close to being the finished product.

The 2013/14 season has seen a much different Arsenal team rise above some stiff competition to reach Wembley. We were drawn against the less talented team down the street, Tottenham in the 3rd round. After seeing off Sp*rs 2-0 we then hosted Coventry City in the 4th round. Despite someone not paying the electricity bill and the lights going out, Arsenal still managed to record a comfortable 4-0 victory over the West Midlanders. The next two rounds saw us pitted against both Merseyside teams. Liverpool went down 2-1 before we managed to put 4 past their neighbors, Everton a few weeks later. The semi-final seemed to be our biggest challenge on the road to Wembley, going all the way to penalties against Wigan Athletic.

Nobody can say Arsenal got the easy route this year, that's for sure, but there is a different feel about this Arsenal team that has installed a different sort of quiet confidence in me. 

There are so many things about this final that would go a long way to making this a fairytale ending. It seems this will be Bacary Sagna's last game in an Arsenal shirt, after failing to agree contract terms with the club. After 8 years as our starting right back - and a damn good one at that - can you really feel anything but love for the guy? If he could raise a trophy at the end of his last game for us it would be a just reward for his time spent in North London.
Then you've got the boss - Arsene Wenger. There's been talk all year about the fact he still hasn't committed his future to the club, and many think he's waiting to end his recent trophy drought before he puts pen to paper. What more incentive do his players need to churn out a good performance?
Finally, there's the recent contract extensions. So many young and talented players have committed, long term to Arsenal Football Club this year. Ramsey, Koscielny, BFG, Cazorla, Wilshere, Gibbs, Walcott, The Ox, Szczesny and more have all added years (and money) to their current contracts with Arsenal. Just looking at those names and knowing they'll likely be playing with us for the next three, four, five years just gives you goosebumps. 

This FA Cup final is more than just putting an end to our 9 year trophy drought and ridding ourselves of that dark cloud thats been hanging over the Emirates for all that time. This trophy, should we go out there and take it for ourselves, must surely indicate that this Arsenal team is heading in the right direction and starting a new era.

Sure, our League performance was disappointing towards the end, and I'll agree that our squad still lacks depth, but you can't tell me that an FA Cup winning season would not be considered a success, and the foundation for us to build on. 

I know for a fact that the Arsenal support will be strong at Wembley on Saturday, but I also know that around the World there will be millions of other Gooners singing their hearts out for the famous Arsenal. I sure as hell will be, alongside some good friends and hopefully new friends at the pub. If you don't get truly excited and pumped up for moments like this then you're not eating enough greens or something. This is a football fans dream - the FA Cup Final. Soak it up and enjoy the day, because the boys in Red & White will be leading us to glory this time!

Come On You Gunners!