Brilliant Arsenal - FA Cup Winners 2015
I've been looking forward to writing this. After the Cup Final last year I was so bewildered by what had happened that I didn't know where to start when writing the day after the game. I suppose I'm similarly bewildered this evening, albeit in a way that is in total contrast to what happened against Hull City. The performance of Arsenal yesterday was beyond any of our wildest dreams. Why were any of us nervous?! For once the players turned up on the Wembley occasion and they totally swatted Aston Villa aside. Every decision taken before the game by Arsene Wenger was proved right as his Arsenal team dominated an FA Cup Final like few before have managed. From the first minute to the last Arsenal were in total control of the game, the only frustration being that it looked like possibly becoming one of those days as chances came and went.
Regular readers will know that I am one of the strongest critics of Arsene Wenger, but nobody can argue with the fact that he has now won trophies in consecutive seasons. The good times have been brought back and Arsene is the man in charge. If nothing else there is a foundation there to genuinely challenge for the Premier League next season, and that has to be the aim. I thought these days of success under Arsene Wenger were gone, but I was wrong. Does he have my full backing? No, but that doesn't matter today. He has won the FA Cup on six occasions and that is an incredible achievement. The whole day yesterday was magnificent (apart from putting a dent in my car as I was leaving home) and it is once again a joy to be an Arsenal supporter. Lou Reed wrote a famous song that could have been attributed to yesterday's performance. It truly was a Perfect Day.
Wembley looking glorious pre-match
The Gunners and our sea of yellow
We went from Dover in three cars. It was great to be able to attend again with my family, including my eldest son for his second FA Cup Final. My Dad has seen every Arsenal final since 1968 and he felt it just as much yesterday as he always has. A comfortable journey had us at Wembley nice and early and gave us the chance to soak up the pre-match atmosphere. Some friendly Villa fans in the car-park were happy to tell us they don't like Sherwood and believe Benteke is little different from Adebayor. But they were hopeful of getting a result despite their final league position. At the end of the day you had to feel a little sorry for them, but it wasn't about Villa not turning up so much as Arsenal simply being too good for the whole 90 minutes.
The Arsenal fans with their scarves - a visual delight
The players line up before kick-off
I got in the ground not too long after the gates had opened and was able to enjoy the whole build-up. Abide With Me was brilliant and I did get choked up as usual singing the FA Cup Final hymn. Red Action had combined with the Club to provide a visual spectacle in the Arsenal end. There is something about Arsenal yellow that is stunning. The massive surfer flag and the free scarves from Arsenal were a masterstroke that must have inspired the players when they saw it. It certainly seemed to inspire the fans. As usual Arsenal fans seemed to be relatively late in to the ground, but when we were all in it was an amazing atmosphere, befitting of the show the players would put on in front of us. God Save The Queen was sung loud and proud at either end of the ground and the roars must have been deafening out in the middle of the pitch.
Arsenal playing the pressing game
In the first couple of minutes of the game there were two key incidents for me. The first was Aaron Ramsey winning a tackle around the half way line, putting us on the front foot, high up the pitch, right from the off. The second was Villa's first high ball towards the back-post for which Wojciech Szczesny was straight off his line to remove the threat of Benteke - it was ever thus until the final whistle. Szczesny repaid the faith Arsene Wenger had placed in him yesterday with a fine performance - yes, he didn't have a save to make, but he pretty much dominated his penalty area throughout the game, and that alone removed Villa's threat.
From then on it was all Arsenal. We looked dangerous whenever we went forward. Both full-backs were getting forward, but only when it was okay to do so, while Coquelin controlled the game from the base of the midfield. It was a superb display from Coquelin once again - if Villa dared to go near the Arsenal half he would appear on the scene to take the ball away and give it to Santi Cazorla or Aaron Ramsey.
We were pressing Villa when they had the ball in their own half, exactly as we did to them in the Premier League a few months ago. It was exactly how we dismantled Liverpool the other week. Winning the ball within 40 yards of goal had us in against their back four time and time again. Villa's tactics were simply to try and foul their way out of trouble and, for a while, Mr Moss looked like he was going to let them do it.
The chances started to arrive, two for Koscielny - one of which was saved incredibly by Shay Given, and another for Walcott that hit Richardson who had appeared from nowhere to get on the line and save his side. We were totally dominant and the only worry was that we weren't hitting the net. The longer it went on the more you thought that we would run out of ideas, or we would get hit with the sucker punch from a set-piece or something. I said to the man sitting next to me that it seemed to have Liverpool in Cardiff written all over it. But the players just kept plugging away.
Ozil's best game for Arsenal
Mesut Ozil was at the heart of everything good about Arsenal yesterday. I have given Ozil serious stick throughout the season. I have called him all sorts of things and generally been totally unimpressed for most of the games he has played in. Yesterday he showed what a £40m player does when he is at it. It was a virtuoso display from a World Class footballer. He was full of pace, effort, running, even tackling. He was taking people on and destroying Aston Villa. He really deserved a goal and, to me, he was the man of the match. I couldn't believe it when Wenger took him off, having watched him complete so many games where he's been totally ineffective, it seemed bizarre. If he'd stayed on I honestly think we might have scored six goals in the Final. I was more than happy to give him a deserved standing ovation when he was taken off. There was one pass he played in to the penalty area to Santi Cazorla, just before half-time, that made you gasp at its total brilliance. That summed up Ozil yesterday.
Theo was loving it yesterday
Back to the action and we finally got our goal following a tactical change. I guess we'll never know who called for Walcott and Alexis to swap positions. My Dad thought it was Szczesny who had run forward during a break in play to speak to Mertesacker. Whoever it was it was a masterstroke. I said to my Dad that it was a good idea as Alexis might just win us a header that Theo couldn't. Within a minute Theo picked up a great Ramsey pass and played a lovely weighted ball to the onrushing, and excellent, Nacho Monreal. The Spaniard put over a fine cross and our little Chilean genius climbed above everyone to nod it back across the goal. When it fell to Theo I held my breath and then it hit the net like a rocket down in front of us. Absolute mayhem! It was a stunning finish from Theo Walcott and one that many might not think he was capable of, especially on his weaker foot. He took off towards the fans and you could feel the frustration of the last year and a bit lifted from him in that moment. Having missed out totally last year he enjoyed the whole experience and he thoroughly deserved to be one of the true heroes of the day. It was a magnificent goal. A 1-0 lead at half-time wasn't reflective of our dominance, but scoring before the break was crucial really.
We started the second-half where we'd left off. And then Alexis Sanchez picked up the ball 35 yards from goal. Another great run from Monreal took the defenders away and Alexis moved inside on to his right foot. What followed was an absolute rocket of a shot that arced, swerved and dipped over Given, off the cross-bar and in to the back of the net. From the other end of the stadium it looked amazing. The celebrations in that Arsenal end were incredible. Alexis disappeared behind and underneath a mob of his fellow Arsenal players. It was surely one of the most amazing goals ever scored in an FA Cup Final. The little man has been our star player all season and he knocked everything out of Villa with such a spectacular goal. As my nephew said, "That is what £32m buys you" - you're not wrong Freddie! Arsene is giving him a rest after the Copa America and it has to happen, but we will miss him so much at the very start of the season. Santi might have made it three within a few seconds as Given produced another fine save to deny the little Spanish magician.
The BFG was a real Captain yesterday
When Per Mertesacker nodded home the third shortly afterwards we knew we had it won. From the other end of the ground it looked a towering thump of a header. On TV I see that he almost missed it and it went in off his shoulder! My son had been on all day that he hadn't scored since Hull in the third round, and you were right Liam - he was due a goal. Obviously it was awful marking but you still have to take advantage. Incidentally, had he missed it I hope Mr Moss was going to award us a penalty for the most obvious case of shirt pulling I think anyone has ever seen - Koscielny literally had his shirt pulled over his head by Vlaar as the ball came over, with Mr Moss looking straight at it.
As I said, we were on easy street after that. Maybe our level dropped a little, but the chances still came and went, Theo almost finishing off in the grand manner but sadly picking out a bloke in row 10 behind the goal with his last touch of the ball. Villa had one or two fairly half-hearted attacks but their race was run. Mr Moss missed a clear foul by Coquelin just outside the box when Agbonlahor had gone on a good run, and I suppose he might have given a penalty when Bellerin tangled with Grealish (who must have been delighted to get out of the young Spaniard's pocket) but the ball had gone out of play (right in line with my seat) and the linesman had missed it. Grealish and Bellerin were also both outside the pitch at the time so I'm not sure what the laws are for that one. There was one moment, though, where Laurent Koscielny stepped in front of Benteke, took the ball on his chest, and took off towards the Villa midfield in total control of the game. It summed up the brilliance of Koscielny, not just yesterday, but over the last couple of seasons.
Jack Wilshere had come on and his running at the Villa players was something they couldn't handle. He should have gone himself when faced up by Vlaar late on but inexplicably passed the ball wide towards a totally knackered Aaron Ramsey (another one to play really well in midfield yesterday). The only thing missing was an appearance from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and maybe a fourth deserved Arsenal goal.
The Ox and Olivier celebrate their combination
The Ox was was another who missed out last year through injury. It was great to see him come on for the final five minutes, although a little harsh on Mathieu Flamini who had spent the whole second-half warming up (and was wound up by Wilshere and Giroud at one point who had sent him back towards the bench only for him to realise he hadn't been called, leaving Jack and Olivier wetting themselves). Deep in the last throes of injury-time Alex got himself down the right and received the ball in space on the edge of the penalty area. Giroud appeared from behind the defence to glide towards the perfect cross to the near-post where he applied his now trademark flick past Shay Given. It was a fitting finish to the game for Arsenal and a thoroughly deserved scoreline that reflected better the dominance of our players.
When the final whistle went a few seconds later the Arsenal end erupted in a cacophony of noise and an ocean of yellow scarves and shirts (TOFFS must have made a fortune in recent weeks on Charlie George number 11 shirts from the 1971 Cup Final). Those are the moments you live for as a football supporter. For once we weren't given heart failure by an Arsenal team in a Wembley final. The tears were flowing, I don't mind admitting, because we'd won another trophy and I was there to see it with my family. My son had been waving his flag furiously from the moment Giroud scored and the look on his little face told me that, even more than last year, he gets it just like the rest of us do. I think my Dad was pretty proud to be surrounded by his three boys and two of his grandsons some 60-odd years after he first went to Wembley for a schoolboy international game.
All of us together at full-time
We had a great view of the Royal Box to see Per insist on allowing Mikel Arteta to lift the FA Cup with him. I heard an interview with Arteta late last night where he said he felt it was Per's day, but it shows the respect they have for him that Mikel was given his share of the glory. It was class from Mertesacker, befitting of The Arsenal in every way.
The celebrations in the Arsenal end were long and loud, though the "FA Family" seats revealed themselves in the shape of empty red seats over the far side not long after the trophy had been lifted - they're not fans and shouldn't be there in the first place. The players "podium" area was set up right beneath us so we had a great view of that from the front row of the upper tier. It was wonderful to see all the squad there together in celebration, putting to bed this apparent nonsense about Danny Welbeck having walked out. Tomas Rosicky had a smile as wide as anyone as he posed with the trophy and that showed me what a proper Arsenal Man he has become over the years, despite basically being the 19th man yesterday. I would have like to have heard Good Old Arsenal being played for us to sing along to, but the Giroud and Santi songs were loud and proud. When we left the stadium there was Arsenal everywhere, obviously, with the Villa fans having long left the area it seemed. The kids got their photo taken with Alan Davies and we were serenaded as we walked to the car by the Piebury Corner open top bus as they headed back towards Holloway.
Driving back down the Holloway Road there were fewer people about than I expected, though still a good number, out celebrating. There was horn blowing and scarf waving and it was a great way to finish a magnificent day.
Yes, it was different to the nerve shredding of last year. The emotions, as a result, were slightly different. Last year it was basically a relief to have won, having been 2-0 behind, and to end the trophy drought. Yesterday was all about an Arsene Wenger team playing at its very best on the big occasion. Give me that kind of calm second-half to a Cup Final any time, thanks very much. It was a great experience, as it always is when you win the FA Cup. Quite simply we were class. I've managed to mention every player in this piece and that is totally fitting of their performance - they were brilliant to a man.
The squad celebrates