“It is certainly the most glamourous, historical and traditional game in English football. Why? Because the whole world has seen FA Cup finals. It's the last game of the season and this campaign has been very exciting. I hope we finish it on a high.”
If, as you read this, there is no sign of adrenaline coursing around your body then perhaps you’d best check your bookmarks. You are clearly on the wrong page.
Anyone of an Arsenal acquaintance knows that Saturday’s FA Cup final is simply massive.
Forget the naysayers, winning this trophy has always been huge. We were the kings of Cardiff, taking the trophy on three out of four appearances after the Millennium (and how we lost in 2001 I will never know).
As everyone is so keen to point out, Patrick Vieira’s decisive penalty in 2005 secured Arsenal’s last piece of silverware. There have been near misses since then: Barcelona '06, Chelsea '07, the title '08 and, most notably, Birmingham in 2011. But this must rank as good a chance as any of those.
|Arsenal: Oxlade-Chamberlain (doubt - groin), Vermaelen (doubt - knee), Walcott (knee)
Hull City: Chester (doubt - hamstring), Brady (doubt - groin), Dudgeon (knee)
Arsenal are bang in form, with a full, fit squad that has not conceded in over five hours of football. They even beat Hull City 3-0 at a canter a few weeks ago.
“Yes, I know we are favourites but what does being favourite mean in football?” asked Wenger. “It doesn't guarantee you win the game. What it does mean is that if you turn up with your best performance, you have more chance to win the game.
“So you try to get your team just to focus and get a bit of perspective. All the rest - the attention and the advantage - is something we have to deal with many times in a year. We are used to that and I think our experience will help us to deal with it.”
Wenger was quietly positive that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thomas Vermaelen would recover sufficiently to return to the squad.
Should Arsenal win, the north London side will be surely the least travelled victors in FA Cup history - with four home draws and only two 12-mile trips to Wembley. That said, the defeats of Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton at Emirates were hardly straightforward, while it took heroics from Lukasz Fabianski to put paid to Wigan in a penalty shoot-out at the end of the semi-final after the holders had gone ahead in normal time.
“We needed to force [open] the door a little bit,” said Wenger. “The fact that we scored with a header from our tallest player [Per Mertesacker] showed we have went for a more direct style in the last half an hour. But it was about winning the game and, on the day, it was more about our mental desire than our class.”
The January signings of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long were crucial as Hull retained their Premier League status with something to spare. However they are cup-tied on Saturday.
Their route to Wembley has seen them defeat Middlesbrough, Southend United, Sunderland, Brighton and Hove Albion and, despite trailing twice in the semi-final, Sheffield United.
They have only picked up one Premier League point in the five games since then - Long and Jelavic scoring as Hull came back from 2-0 down to draw at Fulham. However, with the primary task achieved and an FA Cup final to look forward, their focus may have waivered.
“Overall Steve Bruce has done extremely well,” said Wenger. “To keep them up in the Premier League and get them to the FA Cup final is a great achievement.
“It is difficult to speculate on the effect of beating them a few weeks ago. We just know one thing: if we turn up with a good performance we can beat Hull. We have seen that in the two games this season. A final is always special. It is on a neutral ground, it is a special day and it is down to the performance of the day.”
Arsenal have reserved their most stirring and stalwart displays for the FA Cup this season. The defeats of Spurs, Liverpool and Everton were nail-biting but deserved. Wigan was a win based on will.
But one more victory is needed to release the shackles of that nine-year wait. One last victory will define the entire campaign.
“It will be the crown on the season and our overall performance would look very good considering that we got 79 points in the Premier League, we had a decent campaign in the Champions League and a very tough campaign in the FA Cup.”
One more victory will not make it a perfect season but, certainly, it will be enough.
Come on Arsenal, time to go #GunningForTheCup.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.