When Arsenal took to the Wembley field on Saturday against Hull in the FA Cup final, their fans were in a festive mood. They could not have hoped for an easier match to end their nine-year trophy drought with; a drought that had seen manager Arsene Wenger questioned time and again despite being the club’s most successful manager in history.
However, a nightmare start to the game saw Arsenal go down 2-0 inside the first 10 minutes and had it not been for a Kieran Gibbs header off the line, they could have been 3-0 down before 20 minutes.
The start highlighted the deficiencies of Wenger’s men; defensively unstable and lacking the physical and mental strength. Arsenal once again threatened to wilt and it was Wenger’s stubbornness and insistence of not changing his philosophy that was causing it.
Yet, in the end, it was his philosophy that prevailed as Santi Cazorla hit a stunning free kick into the top corner to halve the deficit before the break. Mikel Arteta revealed after the game that it was Wenger’s halftime talk that inspired the side to come out and dominate Hull. Wenger insisted on his players doing what they do best; to not panic and believe in themselves. And that is exactly what they did.
Wenger has always built his success around trusting his players and empowering them with the licence to play as they will. At its best, it transformed the club into the most attractive team in the country and before the arrival of Roman Abramovich’s petrodollars; Arsenal was the only Premier League side to consistently rival Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. But when it didn’t come off, it got its fair share of the stick.
Throughout the barren run, Wenger was criticised for sticking to subpar players and his transfer policy, forced by the debt incurred in building the new Emirates stadium, was also constantly questioned.
However, it was some of his most maligned players that Wenger stubbornly stuck to that shone through when it mattered most. Laurent Koscielny, scorer of the equaliser, was often found physically wanting during his first year at the club but Wenger’s faith in him did not dwindle. Since then, he has evolved into one of the best defenders in the league and has caught the eye of giants Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
The winner was set up by Oliver Giroud with a wonderful backheel and it was Aaron Ramsey who prodded the ball into the net. Both players have had their fair share of critics, with Ramsey especially facing the brunt of the wrath directed towards Arsenal last year. He is not yet the finished product but Ramsey was Arsenal’s best player this season, and perhaps also the best midfielder in the league, and Giroud’s link-up play has improved considerably even though his finishing still lets him down.
As always, Wenger stuck to his guns, insisting stubbornly on his policy of sticking to his players and on the eve of the FA Cup final, which Wenger described as the most important match of his career, the players paid him back.
It is often overlooked that ever since Patrick Vieira bid farewell to the club, Arsenal have had to sell their most important players almost every season and Wenger has been forced to rebuild without any financial backing. That Arsenal managed to qualify for the Champions League every year during this time is nothing short of a miracle and a testimony to the manager’s genius. For the first time in almost a decade, Wenger was not forced to sell off his best players and he managed to deliver a trophy.
With the monkey finally off their back and the debt almost paid off, Arsenal will now look towards a new era and there is no better man in world football to guide them than Wenger.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2014.
Like Sports on Facebook, follow @ETribuneSports on Twitter to stay informed and join in the conversation.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ