Alright alright.. So the last couple of days (or has it been three days, or perhaps four!?) have been rather wild for me. I have gone bonkers over pints of beer, have duped a taxi guy into believing that I could pay for a nightly sojourn around the city, and mocked my Other-Than-Arsenal-Football-Friends over and over again, so much so that most of them have promised not to talk to me for a week at the very least. I do not remember much in the way of the chronology of events, but all I can tell you is that I had a good time.
Of course you could ask me if I needed to celebrate so hard, after all it is only an FA Cup we won. A lot of people think it is a legitimate question. Well, to those people, I would like to say: FA Cup is the oldest football trophy in the world and will always remain a hugely coveted honour; if it was that easy to win, Doncaster Rovers would be winning it every year (no offence, Donny!), so I like it very much that Arsenal have won it for a record dozenth time, and done so in the most emphatic manner too.
By now you must have realized that I am writing through a haze of cheap alcohol induced hangover, and you might consider it uncouth on my part. You might read this and think to yourself, “wait, this does not seem to be the most analytical piece about football!” Well, it isn’t. We’ll leave that to another day.
These few days are just about basking in the splendour of it all; about enjoying the FA Cup final win more than anything else. We have gone through some of the most torrid times as fans of Arsenal Football Club and this win will go some way in obliterating some of those painful memories. The monkey was off our backs last year when we ended our trophy drought, but successfully defending the FA Cup has meant we are not quite ready to make friends with that monkey again.
Yes, it is true this season promised much more. After the FA cup win last year, and with the big-name acquisition of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, there was genuine belief within the camp that this season we could push on to greater things. But after a disappointing start to the campaign, those hopes were all too easily quashed away. With a number of important players out injured, the team seemed unable to build any sort of momentum in the first half of the campaign.
This, coupled with the fact that Chelsea went bazooking past their opponents, meant we had already given up our hopes of fighting for the title before the year was up. The only shining light of a hitherto dismal season was Sanchez, whose goals and assists kept us from turning into itchy pumpkins, who for all I know are not great fans of the beautiful game.
Things appeared bleak. But Arsenal persevered. It took us until the new year to pull off a string of three wins in the Premier League, but we once we did that, we seemed to raise our game up a notch. Emirates was quickly turning into a fortress, at least in the league, while we were playing with a much more defensive balance on the road.
Though we still lost games, those were shaped more in the contours of untimely accidents, rather than familiar fallouts. Players began to come back from injuries. A certain Francis Coquelin was called back from a loan deal prematurely for lack of defensive options. It was around this time that we began our defence of the FA Cup, and after crashing out unceremoniously against Southampton in the League Cup, we made sure that we did not let go of the only realistic possibility of winning a trophy this season.
In the same month, we travelled to the Etihad aiming to conquer the champions in their own backyard. After all the successes of the earlier season, a constant criticism levelled at Arsenal was that we could not win away at the home of one of our rivals. With us struggling with form and consistency, this too seemed like a foregone conclusion. Only it wasn’t. In one of the best defensive performances of the season, Arsenal emerged comfortable 2-0 winners against Manchester City, and unbeknownst to all, the team began to show glimpses of steely resolve and an unyielding attitude to win.
The following month was a rollercoaster ride. While we won most games, we lost the ones that really mattered. We lost at Spuds, quickly followed by an astonishing 1-3 defeat at home to Monaco in the Champions League. For me, personally, this was the lowest point of the season. After having given ourselves hope by a screamer of a goal by Chamberlain having trailed 2-0, we somehow arsenaled our way into conceding the most stupid of goals in the dying minutes of the game; that all but ended Arsenal’s brief love affair with Europe’s elite competition this season.
Wenger has often stated that a team should be judged by its ability to react to defeats, and if this is the true parameter of success, what followed will only bode too well for Arsenal. While most teams would have deflated under such pressure, when Arsenal found the going tough, we became tough. We found a much better balance between attack and defence in the following games, and made ourselves an extremely tough team to beat.
The games that followed were a testament to our newfound tenacity. We went on an eight-game winning run in the league, while also beating United at Old Trafford in the sixth round of the FA Cup, a win that made me slobber with excitement. What a game it was too, and after succumbing to them time and again in the previous seasons, this was surely one of the highlights of the season. We travelled to Monaco soon afterwards, and though we gave a rock solid performance in France, we had just left ourselves with too steep a climb after the debacle of the first game.
April, unlike the poem, did not prove to be the cruellest month. We continued our run, and progressed to the FA Cup final after beating a resolute Reading thanks to a brace by Alexis. Like so many times this season, the Chilean came to our rescue yet again, proving just how important a player he is for the success of this team.
In the Premier League, there wasn’t much left to do, so we let our tempo drop a bit. There was a good chance of finishing second and we probably should have taken it, but it does not hurt as much, knowing we gave our best in the games we dropped points towards the end of the season, most notably against Chelsea and Sunderland.
At the end, we finished third, twelve points off the pace, but not quite that far from the champions as the points table would have you believe. Our performance in the second half of the campaign was not anything short of exceptional and we should make it a good base to start solidly in the Premier League next season.
So, after all the helter-skelter of the last vestiges of the league season, we were back at Wembley, defending the FA Cup with pride and a fair amount of history to make. We played like champions, and I believe you do not need much reminding of what transpired. I especially cherish the Alexis goal, but there were other great moments during and after the game, giving me enough reason (as I am sure it did to all you gooners!) to celebrate like a lumpen loon just out of a provincial asylum.
Before I leave for a quick dosage of lime water to get rid of my post-FA Cup hallucinatory haze, I would like to make a couple of points. First, I think this season was a sign of progress because of the way we dealt with our nerves in some of the biggest games this season. I do not believe all that crap Paul Merson and the others churn out on a regular basis that this Arsenal team cannot deal with pressure, I think they bloody well can. Second, the way we went from a team that looked complete shambles in the first half of the season to being the most in-form team in Europe in the second half, tells its own story. We can adapt, and that, for me, is a sign that we can move on to better things in the seasons to follow.
With a shrewd summer (more on that later!) and no playoffs to take care of, we should look at the next season as a campaign where we can really kick on to the bigger stage. Easier said than done, of course, but there is no reason that we should not reckon ourselves as a team with great potential, cohesion and spirit, on the verge of greater things.
To hope, to Arsenal, and to the undying belief in us fans, I would like to regurgitate, truly and most deeply: good things come to those who wait!
Till next time then, mates, cheers!