This might be Arsenal’s first FA Cup final since 2005, but they’ve had chances between now and then to put an end to the trophy drought that never fails to be mentioned.
There was the Champions League final in 2006, and two Carling Cup finals (2007 and 2011), so it’s not as if they’ve been completely out of the running for titles. However, tomorrow’s showdown with Hull City provides a fantastic opportunity for them to win the first piece of silverware since they moved to the Emirates Stadium.
In many ways, it’s an ideal final. If you’d offered Arsenal fans a final against a Hull side whose two best strikers, Shane Long and Nikola Jelavic, were cup tied, they’d have bitten your hand off. And after a difficult period in which injuries to key players saw their Premier League challenge fade, bar Theo Walcott they’re not missing any first team stars.
Aaron Ramsey has returned from his three-month absence and picked up where he left off, with goals, assists, and the drive and energy that makes such a difference to this Arsenal team. The Welshman will relish the wide open spaces of Wembley, and his performance against the Tigers last month left Steve Bruce’s side floundering.
Mesut Ozil has, strangely in my opinion, been criticised for his displays this season, and while the former Real Madrid did suffer a dip in form, it’s blindingly obvious that the Gunners are better when he plays. He adds real craft to the way Wenger’s team performs, capable of turning a game in a single moment.
The issue of the cup final keeper is one that has dominated the back pages, but for me it should be Wojceich Szczesny in goal tomorrow. You can’t take anything away from what Lukasz Fabianski has done to get Arsenal to the final, and he was a real hero in the semi-final penalty shoot-out.
Yet, Szczesny is the number 1 keeper. He plays week in, week out in the league and in the Champions League, and it’s obvious that Wenger views him as the best keeper at the club. When you get to a cup final, you have to play your best team. There’s no room for sentiment and Fabianski would be the sentimental choice. The pragmatic choice is Szczesny, and after sharing the Golden Glove award with Petr Cech, he’ll want to cap a good season by putting the ghosts of the Birmingham cup final in 2011 to bed.
Arsenal know well that being favourites means little when it comes to games like this. They’ve experienced cup final heartbreak before, and you only need to look at what Wigan did in last season’s final against Man City to know you can take nothing for granted.
But they can feel confident, they’re a team in good form, with plenty of options and depth, and hugely motivated to put an end to the people reminding them how long it’s been since they won something.
That clock needs to be reset on Saturday at Wembley.