In Game of Two Halves former Arsenal players and national journalists address either side of the argument. This month’s debate was: was Arsenal’s performance in the FA Cup final their most impressive of the season?
Nick Ames, former Arsenal Magazine reporter and freelance national journalist
The standard of performance tends to be forgotten if you come away with the FA Cup, but it was interesting to hear Arsenal players say in the build-up to the final that they felt it was time to put on a show at Wembley.
"The way in which they tore into Tim Sherwood’s side from the off said plenty about the desire to marry result with performance"
The point was easy to see: the wins, this year and last, against Wigan, Hull and Reading had all been great fun but heavy weather had been made of them and there was a feeling that there wouldn’t be too many second chances against an improving Aston Villa. In the event, Arsenal put in their best display of the campaign.
They did not necessarily need to – Villa, it has to be said, were disappointing – but the way in which they tore into Tim Sherwood’s side from the off said plenty about the desire to marry result with performance and suggested that the Gunners were in no mood to give anything away.
Perhaps the most impressive thing was that, even after several early chances had been missed, there was never really a sense that it would be “one of those days” – instead, Arsenal kept up their relentless pressure, were rewarded and never let Villa back in.
We’ll never know how well Villa would have needed to play to make an impact on the game but it would have had to be an astonishing performance: Arsenal just shut them down all over the pitch.
Arsenal beat better sides during the season and the two victories in Manchester were certainly important waymarkers for what was to come. The side noticeably had more belief as the season wore on and showed an ability to win games in different ways. The performance at Manchester City, for example, was an object lesson in defending cleverly and taking your chances at the right times.
That was a big turning point but the win at Wembley had that bit more: it had the grit and resolve required of winners but it was also a non-stop demonstration of the flowing, artistic, incisive football that Arsenal produce at their best – on a day when there was no room for error. And, of course, it had a trophy at the end of it. Put it all together, and how could it possibly have been improved on?
Martin Hayes, former Arsenal striker who made 132 appearances for the club between 1981 and 1990
I was really impressed with Arsenal’s display in the FA Cup final, as I was with other results including the 4-1 win over Liverpool in April, but I believe the victory at Manchester City early this year was the team’s most convincing of the season.
Back in January, City were still looking good near the top of the league and going there and winning proved to a few people that Arsenal could compete with the top sides away from home. In the last few seasons, Arsenal have struggled in those games.
"The City win was the performance of a team who could now perform to their potential and it acted as a platform to build on in the closing months of the season"
Once you know that you go to places like Etihad Stadium and win, it gives you so much belief. Going there, scoring and keeping a clean sheet was a demonstration of Arsenal’s credentials. It was the performance of a team who could now perform to their potential and it acted as a platform to build on in the closing months of the season.
Winning at City will have given a lot of confidence to everyone, including the manager. The players feed off that and have had a great 2015. It was such an important time to go there and win because it gave the team a platform to kick on. Maybe the success at City set Arsenal up for some of the other convincing performances against big teams that followed.
The Gunners went on to win at Old Trafford in the FA Cup and secured an important draw there in the league too. What was especially pleasing about that victory in Manchester was the way Arsenal set up. Everyone knows that Arsène Wenger’s teams like to play attacking, flowing football but I think the team have learnt how to play against the bigger teams, where there may have to go for long periods without the ball.
That’s always been a test for Arsenal but they showed on the day that they can be disciplined and can do a job when they aren’t in possession. When they did get hold of it, they broke with pace and purpose and could even have scored more goals.
Arsenal have occasionally struggled to score enough goals against the big teams but that result showed that the team can go to these big venues and do just that, which is something to take into next season.
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.