Arsenal’s FA Cup Final clash with Hull is about more than reclaiming a cherished trophy. It’s about beginning the next chapter in the club’s history.
The Gunners have not lifted silverware since winning the final of the same competition in 2005. On that occasion, Arsene Wenger’s side were somewhat fortunate to win. Hamstrung by an injury to star striker Thierry Henry, Wenger opted to deploy a conservative 4-5-1 formation. Overrun by a rampant United, Arsenal clung on to reach the penalty shootout.
Ultimately, captain Patrick Vieira struck the winning kick to seal the victory and claim the cup. Against the odds, Arsenal had done it. This was no deliberate "rope-a-dope" strategy.
Wenger has conceded this week that his team had needed luck to win in 2005, but no one associated with the club minded one bit. After a troubled season, all that mattered was the win.
Nine years on, the same can be said. A win at any cost is imperative. Arsenal fans have endured a difficult period. The move to Emirates Stadium enforced short-term cost-cutting measures in order to deliver long-term revenue. Wenger has managed to maintain stability, but he's been forced to sacrifice success.
It’s vital that period ends now. Arsenal have been boosted by new commercial deals with Puma and Emirates. The lucrative contracts have increased the club’s financial power and allowed them to recruit a marquee player in Mesut Ozil.
The next step is to add the silverware to match the signings. The Ozil acquisition and the ill-fated title challenge were signs of positive progress. However, to confirm their improvement, the club must crown their season with a cup.
It won’t be easy. The bookies make Arsenal favourites against Hull, but there will still be nerves among those Gunners lucky enough to be at Wembley. Arsenal have a worrying capacity to capitulate under pressure.
In 2011, Arsenal were widely expected to beat Birmingham City to claim the League Cup. Instead, some disastrous defending allowed Obafemi Martins to snatch an unlikely winner. Arsenal’s progress was set back by three years. This Saturday, we will find out if the wait is to be extended by another 12 months.
That can’t be allowed to happen again. There can be no room for complacency. Equally, nerves must not be allowed to take hold. Arsenal need this. For several years, the club have pedaled a narrative that the years of hardship are coming to a close. The club are supposed to be entering a new era. A trophy is proof of concept and proof that Arsenal are about more than just talk.
Arsenal fans have shown patience to bear with the club during this barren period. Now, they deserve an end to the wait. The onus is on the players to deliver.