WEMBLEY STADIUM, LONDON—Arsenal defeated Hull City 3-2 in extra time at an electric Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening, and in the process consigned an unwanted, embarrassing, barren trophy-less run to history.
A nightmare start saw the Tigers take a 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes, with James Chester and Curtis Davies converting from close range after some superb set-piece work, but Santi Cazorla bit back with a stunning free-kick before the interval.
In the second half the tide turned entirely, and the Gunners' persistence was rewarded as Laurent Koscielny swept home Cazorla's corner to level it up. In extra time it was Aaron Ramsey who popped up with the bullet strike to win it; a product of a beautiful team move.
It wasn't easy—it never is against a Steve Bruce side—and Arsenal stayed true to form in making things as difficult as physically possible for themselves on the day. Critically, though, there was to be no repeat of 2011 blues.
Bruce's game plan became immediately clear: frustration, containment and counter-attacks were firmly in the dossier for the showpiece event.
He set up his customary 3-5-2 formation—a system tried and trusted over the better part of two years—with Curtis Davies leading the defensive line.
His wing-backs, Ahmed Elmohamady and Liam Rosenior, were aggressive and pushed forward often, attempting to occupy and engage Arsenal's full-backs and remove them as an out-ball in the possession game.
Olivier Giroud leading Arsenal's attack pace over the top was not a threat, so Davies willfully dragged his line high up the pitch and encroached upon the halfway line where possible.
With a solid base of three—two men over on Giroud, and one spare when Lukas Podolski drifted onto the shoulder—Hull's midfield three were free to press and harry their Arsenal counterparts.
For the first six minutes the Gunners barely touched the ball; possession was won back quickly and firmly by the Tigers' midfield and moved forward economically.
It all looked a bit ominous, a bit familiar, and Bruce certainly thought he had his counterpart Wenger beat.
"At one stage I thought our name was on it [the cup], but full credit to Arsenal," the defeated manager told the media post-match. "They've come back from a position where I thought they were down and out. It just took a bit of quality from Cazorla."
It wasn't until Podolski and Mesut Ozil interchanged on the left, confusing their markers, that Arsenal were able to mount their first meaningful spell of possession—and work their first few yards of space. We're used to seeing prolonged periods on the ball from the Gunners, but we're not used to them occurring for the first time just shy of the 10-minute mark.
"We were under severe pressure to win today and didn't start well," Wenger told reporters. "We were hesitant, but responded well, outlined how to respond to being 2-0 down—and how not to start a cup final."
In the face of pressure and without a pacy outlet up front to utilise, it took Arsenal a long, long time to find their groove. Aaron Ramsey struggled, Santi Cazorla dropped deeper and deeper and Ozil was in the left-back slot at times.
But quality, and a fierce, determined attitude to banish one repugnant, ugly, pertinent streak, saw Arsene Wenger's men come through the sternest of examinations.
The Gunners ended the match on 65 percent possession, per WhoScored.com—a measure of the dominance, on the ball, they enjoyed following that difficult 10-minute spell. At first it was pointless possession, a method used to find their feet in a game abseiling past them at 100 mph, then after a measure of control.
Ramsey, Cazorla and Co. slowly came to life; Giroud managed a touch or two in the final third; Lukasz Fabianski got a hold of Hull's closing down methods and began passing calmly from the back.
Ramsey's goal in extra time was the eventual conversion of the same chance made three or four times over, with the Hull players wilting, dead on their feet.
Arsenal fans will see this victory—no matter the opposition or circumstances involved—as a stepping stone in the right direction at last. Wenger, though, is keen to temper expectations.
"In the Premier League it's very tough. Looking at the top four this season, there is no Manchester United, Everton or Tottenham Hotspur. Clubs invest a lot. Clubs who win the Premier League invest incredible amounts. It will be difficult to beat them, but we'll try."
All quotes obtained first-hand.