Arsenal finally brought their well-documented trophy drought to an overdue conclusion with an FA Cup Final victory over a spirited Hull City team. The underdogs were two goals up after only eight minutes following set piece goals from defenders James Chester and Curtis Davies, but goals from Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey saw the Gunners lift the trophy after extra time.
The win will do much to take the pressure of manager Arsene Wenger’s back, as it had been suggested that he would step down should his team be defeated in the final. Instead, he will head back to the Emirates with his fifth FA Cup as Arsenal manager, taking the club tally to a record eleven wins.
With ‘Abide With Me’ belted out, the sun beating down upon the hallowed Wembley turf and both sets of fans creating a jovial atmosphere, the underdogs kicked off; few could have predicted how soon the ball would be back at the center circle.
With barely an Arsenal touch on the ball in the opening four minutes, a Hull corner was cleverly fired across to the edge of the penalty area towards Tom Huddlestone. The former Spurs midfielder connected well with his first time shot and, as all but one of the Arsenal defenders tried to play offside, James Chester flicked the ball inside the far post and the Hull travelling support erupted into raptures.
Disappointment turned to dejection for Arsene Wenger just four minutes later as another set piece wasn’t dealt with by his usually dependable defense. Manager Steve Bruce’s son Alex’s header was acrobatically saved by Lukasz Fabianksi, but Curtis Davies was on hand to smash in the rebound from a tight angle.
It could have been even worse a further four minutes later as Bruce nearly completed a center-half hat trick, but his free header was cleared off the line by Kieran Gibbs. From the resulting corner, Bruce won his header once more but it sailed harmlessly over the bar. Mikel Arteta was screaming at Koscielny and Mertesacker, but it was a narrow escape which seemed to galvanize the Gunners.
With 18 minutes played, Bruce played the role of villain having given away a free kick some distance from Allan McGregor’s goal. The Scottish keeper made a fateful flaw with a single step to the right before seeing Santi Cazorla strike a sumptuous shot over his head and inside his near post; McGregor got a touch but could only divert the ball onto the underside of his crossbar.
Arsenal were back in it, and started to stamp their authority onto the game. Mesut Özil should have scored but failed to make any contact on compatriot Lukas Podolski’s low cross, before Olivier Giroud and Podolski both saw shots blocked. Tom Huddlestone had the first of several shots from range fly harmlessly over the crossbar, but Matty Fryatt was perhaps unlucky to be penalised for a perceived foul on Koscielny on the edge of the area as he ran through on goal. Cazorla, clearly playing his heart out, threatened to tie up the scores on the stroke of half time with a surging run forward, but his final ball to Giroud was picked off by an imperious Hull back three.
After ten minutes of the second half, there was the first real moment of controversy as Arsenal had a penalty appeal turned down by referee Lee Probert. Huddlestone hauled down Giroud inside the area but the ball was sailing harmlessly into the arms of keeper McGregor. Barely 60 seconds later, the midfielder was booked for a foul on Cazorla.
With Arsenal attacks petering out and few clear chances being created, Wenger made his first move, taking off Podolski for youngster Yaya Sanogo, who pushed up next to Giroud to put Arsenal into a 4-4-2. More penalty appeals were waved away as Jake Livermore blatantly, though not necessarily purposefully, handballed before Cazorla was tripped by Davies in the area just five minutes later. Having survived a bombardment of crosses, Bruce was taken off injured to be replaced by veteran Paul McShane; there was a touching moment as Bruce Sr. congratulated Bruce Jr. on his performance as he hobbled off the pitch.
With 20 minutes of normal time to play, the game had its next defining moment. Giroud found Sanogo inside the six yard box, who flicked the ball just wide, but he successfully called for a corner. The ball was delivered by the excellent Cazorla onto the head of the departing Bacary Sagna, before taking a freak deflection off the back of Chester into the path of Koscielny, who gratefully hooked the ball past a flailing McGregor.
He hurt himself in the process but Arsenal were well and truly in the ascendancy now and should have been ahead eight minutes later as Sanogo picked out Gibbs. Given time and space just a couple of yards out, he took a touch to set himself before inexplicably skying the ball well over the crossbar; it truly was the definition of ‘a defender’s finish.’
Two minutes later and the pressure was starting to tell, with Meyler again lucky not to have given away a penalty for a push on Cazorla. The 25,000 Arsenal fans were incensed but were nearly placated shortly after when a Giroud volley from the edge of the area was well saved having gone under the legs of a defender.
The Gunners were on top but Hull had chances on the break, with Davies heading an Ahmed Elmohamady cross over the bar with five minutes to go. With another five added on, Sanogo, Giroud and Cazorla had half chances but couldn’t make them pay, and a further half an hour was needed.
The first half of extra time followed much the same pattern as the previous 45 minutes, with Giroud heading Ramsey’s delicious cross onto the bar, before the Welshman hit the side netting with a powerful shot.
With ten minutes remaining though, the Welshman finally had his reward. A key player for Arsenal all season, the winning goal in a cup final has seldom been more deserved for a single player, and after a clever backheel from Giroud it was always going to be Ramsey, popping up at the edge of the area and firing a first time shot with the outside of his boot through a crowd of bodies and into the back of the net. Arsenal had won every game this season when the 23-year-old had scored, and so it was to prove again.
However, the 89,300 inside Wembley had one more moment of drama to endure before the final whistle. There were echoes of Szczesny and Koscielny against Birmingham in Per Mertesacker’s scuffed header, and as Aluko rushed to take the ball on Fabianski came out but was passed by the rapid forward, who, stranded out on the left wing, shot for glory.
Memories of failed cup finals of recent years flashed before the eyes of the Arsenal faithful but the ball drifted agonizingly wide, before another Aluko shot from range was well saved by an otherwise shaky Fabianski. Tomas Rosicky nearly sealed the victory in the final seconds but it wasn’t to matter as the full time whistle sounded and a decade of hurt was lifted from Arsenal Football Club’s sizable shoulders.
As Thomas Vermaelen lifted the trophy (dropping the lid in the process), Hull’s players were left dejected with their runners-up medals but had much to be proud about in their defeat. They were a dodgy corner decision and a Welsh magician away from a Wembley victory over a confident Arsenal side, but eventually their illustrious opponents’ greater wealth of quality shone through.
Wenger was quick to praise Steve Bruce’s men before being showered with champagne by his adoring squad, but the overriding feeling was not necessarily one of a victory for Arsenal; after such a glorious FA Cup final, this was a victory for football.