It feels almost surreal to be writing this. Arsenal have won a trophy. Having become an Arsenal fan around 2004-2005 I have few memories of the invincibles but can remember vividly the 2005 FA Cup Final. I was ill, in bed, hiding behind a pillow as Patrick Viera struck the winning penalty, yet make no mistake this game was far more painful, sickening, gut wrenching – and glorious.
Sure, it wasn’t Manchester United we beat on the day, it was Hull City, but it was a Hull City team that executed a quite clear game plan almost to perfection for 70 minutes; exploiting set pieces, coming out of the blocks fast and sitting behind the ball, giving the likes of Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey very little time on the ball. In fact if it wasn’t for one ill fated step to the right from Alan McGregor before a glorious curling free kick from Santi, I do not think I’d be sitting here right now.
Without that goal, and indeed the vastly underrated Kieran Gibbs’ goal line clearance at 2-0 down, Arsenal would have almost certainly never settled and ultimately, never won. But, with a bit of luck and a quite remarkable piece of ingenuity from Arsene Wenger – bringing on Yaya Sanogo who proceeded to change the dynamic of the game, with Arsenal flourishing in the 4-4-2 system in the same way they did against Wigan in the semis – Arsenal were able to end their eight season wait for a trophy and finally bring a piece of silverware to the Emirates.
Now, the question for Arsenal is what next?
With the Benfica-esque curse of the Emirates now having defeated before it became entrenched, Arsenal can use this success for bigger and better things. Winning the FA Cup is always a fantastic achievement and was fully deserved; beating Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton and the reigning champions on the way to the final, before coming from 2-0 down in the final itself.
However, once the initial celebrations end and a sense of calm is finally restored to Islington with the commotion multiplied tenfold as a result of the nine year wait, now is the time for Arsenal to move on from this barren period. The stadium debt is all but paid off and Arsenal can be financially, as well as footballingly, competitive again (showcased by the Mesut Özil signing in August) and this must be built upon with a big summer. It will feel like the weight of a nation has been lifted off Arsene Wenger’s shoulders. No longer must he suffer the tiresome and lazy journalism that has plagued him and his team for five or six years now. The whole ‘a first trophy in x number of years is a must’, despite the reality that every year Champions league football was the must for Arsenal’s ambitiously fast stadium repayment plan. A trophy was a bonus, if not by the end a desperately, desperately needed bonus.
Yet, with that weight now off Arsene Wenger’s shoulders and the critics having lost their main source of ammunition, the need for a transfer window that not only matches that of the other big clubs, but that fills the void currently between Arsenal and the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
Consider this, Chelsea sign Diego Costa and one or two other squad/first teamers to solidify and strengthen their already existing quality whilst Manchester City keep Sergio Agüero fit for a whole season and perhaps sign a centre back to partner Vincent Kompany on a full time basis. There will be a gulf in class. Even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans would struggle to deny it.
Quality replacements for the outgoing Bacary Sagna, Lukasz Fabianski and perhaps Thomas Vermaelen are a necessity and two or three world class, proven, first team additions is all that will be enough for Arsenal to even think about the league title. Otherwise, and it pains me to say it but, the away from home thrashings against the big clubs this season may not be a thing of the past and the inevitable return of Manchester United could even see Arsenal pushed for fourth place.
This is all hypothetical, worst case scenario stuff though. What should happen is that Wenger uses the FA Cup as incentive to incoming players (evidence that the club is a major player again) whilst allowing it to motivate himself to further prove everyone wrong, show that he still has the intelligence and the prowess in the transfer market to lead Arsenal into a new Emirates era.
Many times Wenger has been quoted as saying that this last nine years may be the most important period in the history of Arsenal FC. The absolute and undebatable need for austerity, discipline and sacrifice is poised to be vindicated in the sweetest way possible. In fact, whilst this might sound really hysterical (and probably is), it is not entirely impossible that the the new stadium, the new finances, the state of the art youth training facilities and the current relatively young crop of players may have the potential to begin a new era of completely unexpected dominance.
Granted, with the finances of City and United it is unlikely that any club will be given the same leeway to ‘dominate’ in the same way that former United and Liverpool teams were able to, but with Financial Fair play finally starting to show its teeth and United unlikely to return to the ‘glory days’ of the Fergie years for a while yet – the task for any manager there is simply too large, who could honestly deny that Arsenal are as well poised as any club at the moment to become a serious threat in not only English but world football.
Yes, this is incredibly optimistic, maybe unrealistic. But it is not impossible. And there is hope (if nothing else) for Arsenal fans that this cup may be the springboard for much, much greater things. With a winning mentality, the bane of the stadium debt gone and commercial revenues at a previously uncharted level the future could be incredibly bright indeed for Arsenal football club.