Having penned FA Cup memory pieces over the last two weeks I find myself sitting here, 24 hours on from being at Wembley, with a serious writers block. I don't really know where to start. Everything is a blur right now. I can't begin to describe the emotions that came from winning. To do it from 2-0 down just makes it even more incredible I suppose. Quite simply Arsenal showed some serious bottle after the worst start to a Cup Final you could ever imagine. Sitting here now it is still hard to come to terms with. All I do know is that winning the FA Cup is still amazing. There is nothing like it.
Pre-match scenes as the players line up
As you can see from the two pictures above I had another great view of the action. If you were in the ground you might have noticed the Dover Gooners banner hanging from the upper tier - I was sitting right behind it. I was at Wembley nice and early and, as is the case whenever you play a northern side there, the Gooners were in a minority early doors. This meant that Hull won the pre-match singing with the Arsenal fans not really taking their places until about 20 minutes before kick-off. Leona Lewis sang Abide With Me superbly, but I far prefer the Cup Final hymn to be sung by 90,000 supporters rather than some pop star - they didn't even put the lyrics up on the screens for people to join in. Once we were all there the Arsenal supporters were loud. Very loud. It was as good a display from our fans as I've known in a long time, and it certainly put the bad memories of the Birmingham game to bed.
What happened in the first ten minutes could have scarred us all for life. Why can we not just get started properly in big games? Ultimately that is a reflection on the Manager as he is the one who has the job of setting up the team mentally. It certainly was a mental start. We simply weren't in it. Going 1-0 behind was bad enough. The ball back to Huddlestone is obviously a deliberate ploy, and fair play to Hull, but how was Chester in five yards of space to turn the ball past Fabianski? To then go 2-0 down after seven minutes was unforgivable. Our players were so off the pace that it was criminal. Hull must have been amazed at how easily they were taking us apart all over the pitch. And let's get this straight, had Kieran Gibbs not cleared off the line a couple of minutes later we'd have been three goals down with no way back. As it turned out that was the last real threat we came under until the closing seconds of extra-time.
The moment that it all came right
I don't know what sparked our players but they finally started to get going. Maybe Hull got a bit spooked too at the realisation that they were on the brink of one of THE great shocks of all time. I certainly recall Mikel Arteta waving his arms at the other players as the Arsenal supporters certainly made our feelings known to them. Gradually, led brilliantly by Arteta, the players started to get in to the game a bit. One thing that made a huge difference, and I don't know if it was Arteta or the bench that called it, was his move towards the left to contest headers with Hull City's out ball to El Mohammady. Without that Hull were no longer able to put us under pressure high up the pitch. The problem we had was that Giroud was in Curtis Davies' pocket for most of the game (when Sanogo came on things started to change a bit).
When we got the free-kick for Cazorla's goal I was yelling at him to get out of Podolski's way. Until yesterday I had never really seen Santi hit a decent free-kick at goal. Most of his efforts have struggled to reach or have hit the wall at about knee height. I don't mind it when the players make me look stupid. If it had gone in at our end we'd have moaned that our goalkeeper didn't save it, but it was a bit like Gascoigne's free-kick against us in 1991 and should go down as one of the great Wembley goals. It was a goal that deserved probably a lot more celebrating than it received, but such were the circumstances. Getting a goal back before half-time was vital for us, and we should have been level a couple of minutes later when Ozil missed the ball completely from a perfect cut-back by Podolski. Sadly, for me, Ozil was back to his worst yesterday and failed to affect the play in any way whatsoever. Quite how he made it to 105 minutes only Arsene Wenger can know.
Rambo and Gibbo take off towards me!
We had plenty of huff and puff at the start of the second-half as Hull's time wasting rather gave away their contentment to try and hold on. We weren't creating especially much with Giroud not getting any change from Davies, and Podolski not in the game (and nor were Cazorla and Ozil). However, we were the only team likely to create and score a goal. The problem for us was that every time one of our players looked like they might get on the end of something they were taken out by a Hull City player. Mr Probert should never be allowed to referee a game again as long as he lives. In real time I counted three clear penalties. I didn't realise at the time that one of the Hull men had pulled an Henchoz to deny Sanogo his first ever Arsenal goal shortly after he entered the fray.
The introduction of Sanogo was key. I wouldn't have taken off Podolski, and I would still contend that the German could have been moved to play next to Giroud himself. However, what Sanogo did was to run around and make a nuisance of himself. He started to drag the Hull defenders about and this opened space for Giroud as Davies maybe didn't know whether to stick or twist at times. With Mikel Arteta dominating midfield Ramsey was free to get in to the attacking areas as well and you got the sense at times that Hull were rocking, only for our final ball to not quite be there.
That's how you celebrate a Wembley winner
When we did get the goal it came from a corner of our own. Okay, it shouldn't have been a corner, but maybe up against the penalty decisions and the time wasting that was going unpunished it was a double wrong that added up to something approaching a right. Bacary Sagna attacked the ball and just by that bit of effort it fell to King Koscielny who turned it, rather painfully as it happened, in to the net. Koscielny is the man who scores the important goals for Arsenal. If you check out the goals he's got for us over the years there are some major ones in there, from a semi-final leveller against Ipswich to the winning goals that have put us in the European Cup on two occasions. Yesterday was the most important of them all and a true reward for a player who has cemented himself among the very best defenders in the game at the moment. His long contract extension of the other week gives him the chance to join Arsenal's pantheon of great centre-halves from down the years. He's well on the way there now.
The chances and the shots came and went. Sanogo tries, but I just don't see him ever scoring a goal at the moment. Then Kieran Gibbs had the chance that every kid dreams of, an open goal, six yards out in the Cup Final. The last thing you want to do is blast that one over the bar. He blasted it over the bar. If that had gone in I think Hull would have broken and we'd have scored at least one more before the end of the game. As it was, if someone had offered me 2-2 after the first seven minutes I'd have bitten their arm off.
The Arsenal end after the game
At the beginning of extra-time we started quick and I thought we were going to smash them. Sanogo beat his man inside the box and then, rather than driving in and going for goal, he decided to try and do it again. It's so frustrating. The pass, pass and pass again was still in evidence and it still winds me up. Then we got the chance again to score with Ramsey putting the perfect cross on the head of Giroud. Sadly Giroud was to fluff his lines with the big chance in the big game yet again by hitting the bar with his header. Was it going to be our day?
Finally Wenger made the changes we'd been crying out for since before the second-half had finished when he replaced Ozil and Cazorla with Wilshere and Rosicky. Against a tired opponent intent on playing for penalties, and packing back in defence, we needed people who were going to run at them and try to make things happen. Within a minute the pair had put together a move that nearly saw Wilshere get put in one-on-one with the goalkeeper - that man Sanogo just not quite making the contact required on the through ball. We didn't have to wait long though.
When it did come, what a goal it was. At the time I didn't appreciate how good the finish was from Aaron Ramsey. The pass, pass and pass again actually worked for once and a Giroud back-heel finally found an intended target. What followed was just sublime. If Cazorla's goal is one of the great Wembley strikes, then Ramsey's is one of the best winning goals in all of FA Cup Final history. To hit the ball first time with the outside of his boot, on the run, and put it as close to the inside of the post as it was possible to get was simply incredible. I've seen a camera angle from behind the goal and it takes the breath away, such is the quality involved in the finish.
It was utter carnage in the Arsenal end. The atmosphere at times like that is something you have to be part of to appreciate. The whole end was jumping. I kept saying to my son to look at the fans and take in the scene. Thousands of Gooners singing and hoping that finally we were going to see silverware come home. That view will live with me forever, I hope.
Me and my boy at the end (excuse the chins)
Hull obviously went for it as best they could, and it wouldn't be Arsenal if our players didn't give us a fright. A simple header back to the goalkeeper was all Per Mertesacker had to do. For some reason he tried to be Franz Beckenbauer and fell a*** over head allowing the impressively quick Aluko to get away down the wing. What came next was like slow motion as Fabianski channelled his inner Almunia and took off towards the wing. The collective screaming of 25,000 Arsenal fans couldn't halt his charge. What was he doing? Aluko put the ball towards goal and Kieran Gibbs made the best dummy (of course he did) I've ever seen to let the ball run out for a goal-kick. And still it wasn't over. Shortly after that Aluko was on the floor injured, only for him to see the ball break his way. Rising like Lazarus he hammered a shot towards the bottom corner and Fabianski made a superb save to keep us in front. From there we broke and the pass, pass and pass again haunted us once more as Tomas Rosicky passed (no pun intended) up the chance of a goal in the Cup Final by playing it to their defender on the goal line. And then the final whistle went.
The relief, the joy, the excitement, the happiness and the tears were incredible. The frustrations of the last nine years were lifted in that moment. There were so many people all around us in emotional states. Winning the FA Cup never gets any less special. Winning it when you've been without it for so long, and coming back from the dead in the Final to get it done, takes a lot out of you and the feeling is intensified ten-fold. I grabbed my boy at the final whistle and cried. I told him to take in everything from this point on because you just don't know when you're going to get these feelings again. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. My Dad and brother were also in tears and that made it even better and even worse all at the same time.
That's our banner, top right
I applauded Hull when they got their medals, as did most of the Arsenal fans. They deserved it for their part in one of the greatest FA Cup Finals ever played. When our players went up to get the FA Cup all our dreams were being realised. The new Royal Box at Wembley is dwarfed by the enormity of the stadium around it and even with an unobstructed view it isn't easy to make out the trophy presentation all that well. Seeing it on the screens later I was annoyed that Vermaelen took the Cup on his own having dragged Arteta up with him. I've since realised having watched it on TV (and been told) that Arteta told Prince William to give the Cup to his skipper. What an incredibly selfless thing to do. Mikel Arteta was outstanding in every way yesterday and, in that gesture of passing up his own moment in history, he called to mind everything we know about the class of our football club - it was a moment for the annals of Arsenal, up there with Joe Mercer's famous sportsmanship in 1950 and 1952. For me Arteta was the Man of the Match yesterday and I was surprised when Ramsey was awarded it. He produced one of THE great Arsenal FA Cup displays yesterday and, to me at least, is now an Arsenal legend as a result (as is Rambo, of course, for his goal that put him up there with George, Sunderland, James, Lewis, Linighan et al).
The players celebrate in front of us
The lap of honour was spoiled, only slightly, by Wembley's insistence on not allowing the supporters to sing their songs to the players. You could really sense the elation of those that had been around a while. For the likes of Sagna, Rosicky, Gibbs, Fabianski (has any man ever enjoyed winning the Cup as much as he did yesterday?) etc there was a feeling that they'd finally done it. For the newer players you felt that they've bought in to what it means to be part of Arsenal FC. The German players, the Spaniards, the Frenchmen all shared the same joy that people like Jack Wilshere were feeling. For The Ox and Carl Jenkinson it must have been so hard to be the two that missed out, but Jenko is one of us and he was bouncing about all over the place. It should be no surprise that he was the last person to leave the pitch afterwards, joyously clutching the FA Cup.
The three goal scoring heroes of Arsenal
When we finally left the ground I walked round the stadium with my Dad (still not totally recovered from a knee replacement) to meet my other brother with whom he'd gone to Wembley, but who had procured a ticket elsewhere in the stadium to allow us all to be there in the first place (my nephew was also able to be there yesterday for what was an amazing day for our family). When we found him the other Dover Gooners were also all there waiting for us. As you'll know if you've been reading the site this week we've all experienced the good times (and the bad ones to be honest) together as a group over the last fifteen years or so. To meet up outside Wembley after winning the FA Cup made the day complete. The Arsenal fans were singing and dancing and smiling all round Wembley. Our little group from Kent were able to celebrate together, and that was amazing to me.
I've been writing this piece for over two hours now which I suppose isn't bad for someone who didn't know where to start. Words will never describe the feeling of winning yesterday. Suffice to say that I want more of it, and I hope that the players do too. I love my football club through thick and thin. Yesterday was one of the best days we've ever had. The Arsenal.
My favourite Arsenal picture from yesterday
Picture credits to Stuart MacFarlane and David Price of Arsenal FC.