Never Losing Faith
Monday 29th May 2017
It feels more than obvious to be saying winning a cup final at Wembley will live long in the memory. But in that incredibly long list that us Gooners are so fortunate to have, Saturday evening has to be right up there with the very best.
The feelings and emotions in the build up to our 3 finals in 4 years could not possibly have been more different. If pre-Hull was filled with nerves and fear of failure after 9 trophyless years and for Villa we couldn’t really be anything else than confident, I had totally made my mind up to try and take it all in and enjoy the day this time round, realistically resigned to the fact there was every chance we might get beat on the day.
With Kos missing, Gabriel also out after going through by far his best vein of form since joining and Mustafi also not available we were down to the bare bones in the very heart of defence. And this, against the best team in the country. Coupling all that with the fact we had to somehow pick ourselves up after the disappointment of not quite getting in the top four, very few felt we had a chance.
But……..and massively deservedly so on the day, we produced a match winning performance that was up there amongst the very best we have produced in our long and illustrious history.
Arsenal Football Club. FA Cup winners 2017. Absolutely magnificent.
I slept terribly on Friday night. An uncomfortably warm temperature and a massive thunderstorm didn’t help….but thoughts about the game have to take a huge responsibility. And now, well into my forties, that is still the case. Maybe a bit sad….but totally and utterly genuine.
The sun, as it always does on Cup Final day was well and truly shining brightly as I left my house early in the morning. But more importantly, that buzz was there. Even if it was tainted with a little bit of pessimism. Deep down however, I felt there was as much chance of us winning as there was us getting absolutely spanked. And the latter was being predicted by many so called ‘experts’.
And that gave me enough optimism to experience pre-match emotions heavily laced with the kind of nerves Cup Final day always produce.
We followed the same routine as our previous 7 victorious visits. And why wouldn’t we. A great pub, virtually all of my very best friends and Arsenal supporting family joining me in a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. And with people who not only want the same thing but are going through the very same emotions. So they get it.
Leaving the pub, confidence had grown considerably. Not realistically of course. Just alcohol driven. But the journey to the stadium, that incredible walk up Wembley Way, the atmosphere, the colour and the sheer emotion was something to behold. I’ve done it many times but it never ever gets any less special.
‘Abide With Me’ rings out, an emotional moment in itself, and all the debate becomes irrelevant. Its all about all those things that make up the package that decides a football match. Desire, ability, attitude, tactics and of course luck.
We started the game well. But we’ve done that before. But that excellent play, that dominance went on. Even after we scored. It was a strange goal of course. One with a degree of controversy and by the nature of how long it took to be allowed, an absolute nightmare to watch! The offside decision got the right outcome….but on another day the possible hand ball might have worked against us.
A lead we thoroughly deserved and our domination throughout the rest of the half could and should have seen us almost home and dry by the break. The fact we weren’t however, meant we all knew despite the delight and possible surprise in our how much we were on top in the first period, we still had a very long way to go.
Keeping our shape during the early stages of the second half was incredibly important I felt and we did just that. And on the break we looked very dangerous.
I still hadn’t considered at this stage we might go on a win the game. But when the Chelsea player tried to cheat and got sent off, I looked at the clock and a wave of confidence swept over me for the first time. Winning, our opponents down to 10 and more importantly than anything else playing really well, I genuinely thought we had a massive chance all of a sudden.
Of course, being Arsenal, we don’t do things the easy way. Ever!
And against the odds and during a period where we looked no more under pressure than at any other stage, Chelsea equalised. And with a goal that our goalie will be more disappointed than anybody that he didn’t save it.
But, with disappointment clear all around, I felt it was crucial we didn’t change anything. We had been the better side all afternoon and there was still plenty of time to win it.
What followed was what footballing dreams are made of. Big Olly Giroud ran into the channel for his first touch since coming on. His ball in was perfect, if nothing more than a calculated gamble. And that is where the brilliant bit comes in. Rambo’s run wasn’t luck. It happens too often. He gambled when nobody else did. And right in front of the Gooners he buried the header. Get in you absolute beauty! I have never seen an Arsenal end jump up in unison in that way for any other goal with such intensity. It was incredible. Nothing can explain it. A moment. A genuine moment.
Chelsea were beaten. But they are league champions for a reason. And they had one more chance. Probably their best in the whole game. And David Ospina saved it. He deserved that. And not only was it crucial it saw us over the line.
We had been simply magnificent. And our celebrations were intense with as much surprise as joy.
Every single one of our players put in a shift on the day. But given how things had developed over the previous couple of weeks it would be wrong not to give special praise to our defence. And in particular the BFG. Faultless. It is as simple as that.
A great great day.
I’m not going to say any more. It’s Monday night and I’m still smiling. And in a difficult season it feels like one of our greatest ever victories.
And I mean that.