English soccer's most noteworthy, most talked about and most joked about trophy drought came to an end on Saturday as Arsenal ended nine barren years with a dramatic FA Cup final triumph.
Arsene Wenger's side survived a furious opening burst from underdog Hull City that put it in a two-goal hole to eventually prevail 3-2 in extra time and lift the cloud of frustration that had long plagued the famed North London club.
A deft winning goal from Aaron Ramsey meant no more chatter about when, if and how Arsenal's next trophy would come and it put an end to the speculation about the future of Wenger, English soccer's longest-serving coach. Also, there will be no more taunts from rival fans – maybe even a whole new outlook for Arsenal.
"It has been a long time," midfielder Mikel Arteta said. "We have put it right today. This is the start of a new era."
Despite perennially being one of England's highest-profile and historically successful teams, the Gunners were hamstrung by one date: May 21, 2005. That was when the club beat Manchester United in an FA Cup final penalty shootout, the last hurrah before an empty spell of 3,283 days that no one could have predicted.
During that time, there was a defeat in the 2006 Champions League final, a shock loss to Birmingham in the 2011 League Cup final and even a brief flirtation with this season's English Premier League crown before a mid-campaign slump.
Yet amid it all, Arsenal bucked the now-entrenched habit in European soccer of firing the coach when things do not run with perfect fluency. Since Wenger's last trophy, every English league club – not just the 20 Premier League teams but all 92 sides in the top four divisions – have switched managers. Indeed, Wenger's Arsenal tenure of nearly 18 years is longer than every other EPL boss put together.
There were times when that loyalty seemed to have morphed into blind faith. But as the boss and his players celebrated on the Wembley Stadium turf and plans for him to sign a new contract were confirmed, it sunk in that the most reliably ever-present entity in the English game is a studious Frenchman who was virtually unknown when he arrived in 1996.
Wenger described this win as perhaps his "most emotional" and there is no doubt he had started to need a day, and an outcome, like this. Arsenal's fans will be eternally grateful for his service but they had long since grown sick of the jibes, the near-misses and the cobwebs growing in the trophy cabinet.
Now, with the pressure off, the club can breathe once more.
"This was an important moment in the life of this team," Wenger admitted, "because to lose would have been a major setback."
But it could have been different on this afternoon when the FA Cup, that famous and mischievous old competition, promised what would have been the latest in its history of stunning quirks.
Hull, whose Premiership position of 16th following promotion last season deserves credit and commendation, was not expected to put up anything like the fight it did. Within eight minutes, remarkably, Steve Bruce's battlers were two goals to the good courtesy of James Chester's timely deflection on Hull's first real attack and Curtis Davies' tap-in rebound minutes later.
With a golden opportunity at silverware slipping away fast, Arsenal held its nerve. Santi Cazorla gave Wenger's men hope on 17 minutes with a superb free kick and from then on Arsenal began a steady barrage. Hull defended gamely but could not prevent Laurent Koscielny from sweeping in the equalizer after 71 minutes and effectively sending the game into extra time.
In the additional period, it was one-way traffic. Hull tried to force the contest to a penalty shootout, but a skillful move fitting for a Cup winner clinched the victory for Arsenal in the 109th minute.
Olivier Giroud's backheel in the penalty area fell into the path of Aaron Ramsey, who didn't break stride before rifling it into the bottom corner and leaving goalkeeper Allan McGregor little chance. You knew then that the wait was over for the Gunners and their supporters.
The final whistle brought relief and joy and no shortage of tears. After nine long years, Wenger has his prize, Arsenal has its pride back and, for now at least, the Gunners are the ones laughing.
- Sports & Recreation
- Arsene Wenger
- Aaron Ramsey