Thursday, May 22, 2014

Arsenal 3 Hull City 2 (AET) FA Cup Final

Arsenal went into the FA Cup final as heavy favourites. They have done the "double" over their Cup final opponents this season and the two teams' latest forms couldn't have been more contrasting, with Arsenal winning all of their last five games, including a convincing 3-0 victory over Hull, while the Humberside club took only one point from a possible 15. However, as Arsenal supporters, we never expected anything straightforward in the final and we didn't worry for nothing. Arsenal never fail to make life difficult for themselves and us.

Arsene Wenger made only two changes from the side that started in a 2-0 victory over Norwich on Sunday. As expected, Per Mertesacker came into the team after having a rest the previous weekend. Last weekend's goalscorer, Carl Jenkinson didn't even make the bench as the club captain, Thomas Veramelen was fit enough to be on the bench. Santi Cazorla replaced Tomas Rosicky after also having been rested for the Norwich game. What raised our eyebrows was Wenger's choice of the goalkeeper. Lukasz Fabianski got the nod ahead of our regular No.1 keeper, Wojciech Szczesny. Perhaps Wenger kept his word to give Fabianski a status as this season's Cup keeper, but after his controversial decision last weekend to take Szczesny's chance to win the Golden Glove away and considering that Fabianski was clearly going to leave the Club at the end of the season, the selection seemed to be an odd one to us.

Hull took a lead only 3 minutes after kick-off. At O'Neill's bar, we were looking at a frozen picture on the screens at that time, without knowing what was happening. Only the commentary suggested that something unbelievable was happening. By the time we got action back on our screens, Arsenal were already 1-0 down. Our defence was shocking. And things would get even worse 4 minutes later. Hull scored from another set-piece. This was a massive blow. We were quite sure that Arsenal would come back from 1-0 down, but overturning a two-goal deficit in a Cup final was an arduous task. In fact,  no team had come back from 2-0 down to win the FA Cup since 1966. Furthermore, it might have been worse had Kieran Gibbs not cleared off the line shortly afterwards.

Arsenal had to recover from the nightmare start quickly. Therefore, Santi's excellent free-kick in the 17th minute was so important. The Spaniard's right-footed effort was his best free-kick in England. The Asturiano was apparently a prominent dead-ball specialist in La Liga, but like other Arsenal players, he lost his nous in those situations after he had joined Arsenal. Only recently against West Brom, a significant improvement in his corners has caught the eye. After RVP's departure, we have been longing for somebody who can score out of nothing without relying on intricate build-ups, although it may perhaps be not quite in line with Arsenal ethos.

The goal changed the whole dynamic of the game. The fact that the Gunners scored a goal from virtually their first chance gave them a hope and belief. After Santi's goal, it was all Arsenal but we could not find an equaliser despite so many goal-scoring chances in the first half. Mikel Arteta praised later Arsene Wenger's half-time talk. The boss' instruction was to stay calm. Yaya Sanogo was sent onto the pitch to replace Poldi and Wenger changed its formation to a 4-4-2. Arsenal looked better with two strikers up front. In the 72nd minute, the illusive equaliser finally arrived. It looked a bit fortuitous as Sagna's header from Santi's corner took a deflection on a Hull defender before Koscielny flick it to the back of the net, but Koscielny took it very well on the turn. 10 minutes later, Gibbs had a glorious chance to win the game, but he blasted it over the bar. At the end of normal time, we were saying that there would be only one winner in this game.

Arsene Wenger admitted later on that he took a gamble to avoid a penalty shoot-out at all cost. The Frenchman brought on two players who are not penalty takers at the cost of Santi Cazorla, one of the designated penalty taker (Wenger said that he wouldn't put Özil on his penalty list). As Giroud and Gibbs were suffering from cramp and a hamstring strain, respectively, at the latter stages of extra time, Arsenal were short of penalty takers, but Wenger's gamble paid off. Two pairs fresh legs were brought on in the form of Rosicky and Wilshere, which made a difference as the Tigers looked noticeably tired. But even before the changes, we knew that not a lot of teams could cope with Arsenal when they impose their high-tempo game. Then, in 11 minutes from the end of extra time, Ramsey fired home after Giroud laid it off for the Welshman with a beautiful back-heel pass. There was another major scare to survive before the final whistle, but it was a happy ending at full time. Wenger summed up the game by stating that Arsenal made a demonstration on how not to start a final and also how to come back.

At O'Neill's bar in Los Altos, our celebration was understandably wild. We waited for this moment for 9 years.

It was a dramatic Cup final we will all remember for years to come. Both teams battled hard and it was an absorbing game. Hull may have wanted it more at the beginning of the game, but Arsenal showed their desire and determination after falling behind. Only poor performances came from the officials. Steve Bruce might have rightfully moaned about the ref's decision to give Arsenal a corner kick that led to Koscielny's equaliser, but Hull were also lucky to get away with moving their free-kick by 8 yards forward in the making of their second goal. Also, Arsenal had 4 penalty shouts in the game. Tom Huddlestone hauled down Giroud, holding the French striker around the neck. There was a handball claim, which we must admit was a 50:50 chance of getting a penalty. Two cases, both of which Santi was involved, were stone-wall penalties.

Ramsey was named Budweiser Man of the Match, but we didn't think that any individual player stood out in this game. Ramsey had a few rash shots by his admission before he finally found the net. Stats-based's Man of the Match was Curtis Davies of Hull City. Daily Mail, well known for their anti-Arsenal inclination, named Bacary Sagna, who is believed to leave the Club after the end of his contract this summer, Man of the Match. Despite no standout players, Arsenal played solidly as a team after a very shaky start.

One may say that this game was a microcosm of Arsenal's 2013/14 season. We certainly went through a lot of ups and downs since the 3-1 defeat by Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, but every time the team had disappointment, they responded positively. This FA Cup final win came at the end of their fine run of form after a devastating 3-0 loss at Goodison Park. During that run, Arsenal secured a place in next season's Champions League qualifier. Capped with the FA Cup win, we can now conclude that Arsenal's 2013/14 season was a successful one.

Players ratings

Fabianski: 6
Perhaps he could do little about Hull's 2 goals, but his rash decision to come out of the area nearly cost us the game. With two defenders coming back, there was no need for him to make a challenge.

Sagna: 7
Worked tirelessly. Solid display.

Mertesacker: 6
Below-par performance from Arsenal's defensive leader and organiser. His slip near the end of the game gave us a fright.

Koscielny: 7
Scored an equaliser. Made 10 clearances.

Gibbs: 7
Saved Alex Bruce's goal-bound header off the line, which is arguably one of the flash points of the game. Registered more clearances (11) than any other Arsenal player. However, he was guilty for Hull's second goal, slow to react. Also, his lack of composure let him down when he blazed his effort over the bar after Sanogo found him unmarked 6 yards out.

Arteta: 7
Made 4 tackles and 4 interceptions.

Ramsey: 8
Took his goal very well first time. Made 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, and a whopping 105 passes, including 2 key passes, with an 88% passing success rate. Had 7 shots, 2 of which were on target. In the run-up to Hull's second goal, he was beaten by Quinn too easily and allowed him to deliver a cross into the box. It wasn't his best game, but he did not stop driving forward. His stamina and determination had a big impact on the game.

Cazorla: 8
Scored a screamer. It demonstrated his sheer quality.

Özil: 7
Had two great chances in the first half when we were pushing for an equaliser, but spurned them by miskicking from Poldi's cross and having his volley nodded away. Although he created 2 chances, it was somewhat disappointing that our record signing did not shine in the big game.

Podolski: 6
Made 16 passes and 23 touches in 60 minutes. Although he made a couple of great runs and created a chance for 
Özil, he was not much involved. Replaced by Sanogo in the 61st minute.

Giroud: 8
Provided an assist for Ramsey's winner through a deft back heel pass. Unlucky not to score when his header hit the woodwork and when his goal-bound effort was saved superbly by McGregor. Had 6 shots, 2 of which are on target. Created more chances (5) than any other player on the pitch. His finishing left something to be desired at times, but his link-up play was excellent.


Sanogo: 7
Replaced Poldi in the 61st minute. Had 4 shots, 1 of which was on target. One of his effort narrowly missed goal. It would have been a fairy tale ending if he had scored his first goal in an Arsenal shirt in the biggest game of the season. He certainly got himself about and posed a threat to the Hull defence.

Rosicky: 6
Came on for Cazorla in the 105th minute. Had a glorious chance to make it 4-2 when Wilshere's pass found him on the right flank, but his effort was blocked off the line. 

Wilshere: 6
Replaced Özil in the 105th minute.


Arsene Wenger: 8
All his substitution decisions were spot-on and his tactical change to 4-4-2 had a big positive impact as well.


Lee Probert: 6
How we didn't get at least 2 penalties (both against fouls on Santi) was beyond us.

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