Ahh, the glorious feeling of an impending FA Cup Final weekend that involves your team; the aerial shots of the stadium, the minute-by-minute coach arrival updates, the walk up Wembley Way, festooned with colour – red and white and gold and black – is there a better sight in football?
Maybe once, the European Cup held that honour, back when only league winners competed in a ‘best of the best’ war of attrition, not the bloated, over-weight punch-drunk cruiser-class boxer that the competition has now become…where money has overtaken prestige and settling for fourth gets you a place at the Big Boy’s table. Urrgh.
But the FA Cup, with so many recent memories of glorious Arsenal victories (Newcastle, Chelsea), lucky Arsenal victories (Manchester United) and boring Arsenal victories (Southampton). How I’d settle for either on Saturday. Whereas in 2011 vs. Birmingham City, the monkey on the club’s shoulders was a mere juvenile; six years old, three years further on, this now nine-year-old monkey has grown up, it’s a nasty, gnarly teenager and it’s throwing its own shit everywhere.
Arsenal need to give it a slap, put it in its room (the trophy cabinet) and develop it like a loving parent (future success). Look at Benfica; yes, they can win their domestic competitions every now and again; depending on whether FC Porto have fielded their next superstars-in-waiting line up or not, but their European trophy monkey is now a huge, 50-year-old pissed off silverback gorilla who is beating seven shades out of anyone who dare beat it (did you see those penalties on Wednesday?! What were Rodrigo and Oscar Cardozo thinking?!).
Unsurprisingly, the ‘Twitter Arsenal Rumour Mill’ threatens to overshadow this rare Saturday event (who knows when Arsenal may have another chance to right another cup final wrong after this weekend?), with Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria, Cesc Fabregas, Micah Richards, Carlos Vela, Serge Aurier and Javi Martinez all linked in an ITK circle-jerk orgy. Whilst I suspect there is meat on the bones of the Vela story, the rest seem somewhat unlikely (maybe Aurier will join…but not for the low, low fees surely?) and even distracting. I love a good rumour like the rest of us, but I want to savour this final like a fine fillet steak, served with chunky chips, watercress salad and assorted condiments. And a pint of Guinness.
What can we expect then, come Saturday? There are several key questions to answer:
Who’ll play in goal? Was Lukasz Fabianski played against Norwich to get him match-sharp?
Will Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain force their way into the starting line up?
Will Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs be fit enough to start?
Is this Sagna’s swansong in red and white?
Will Abou Diaby make a fairy tale FA Cup Final appearance of his own?
What we do know is that Hull City won’t be able to field Shane Long nor Nikica Jelavic; who are both cup-tied. The two strikers who arguably fired them to safety in the top-flight will be watching from the stands. Will Hull’s remaining firepower trouble the centre back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny? Would it perhaps be wise to play Thomas Vermaelen at left back if there are doubts about Gibbs’ fitness? Nacho Monreal’s form has been sporadic at best lately…
Am I excited? Yes, of course, I am also nervous, perhaps more so, purely because cup final defeats against Real Zaragoza, Galatasaray, Liverpool, Barcelona and Birmingham City are all too memorable to me.
The Birmingham City final demonstrated all too clearly that no matter who Arsenal can field in an all-important match, they can still lose to the overwhelming underdog; I believe only Cesc Fabregas was missing from the starting XI that afternoon. The all-important league matches this year have more often than not resulted in abject humiliation for Arsenal, so shaking this trophy monkey is not a forgone conclusion in the Cross household.
I hope to be watching the game with my two Gooner nephews. I suspect that I will be hiding my eyes for some of the game. I fully expect Arsenal to make a real meal out of it, but I think any team that can field the talents that Arsenal WILL be able to: Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker, can and really should emerge victorious.
In fact, I suspect Mesut Ozil will look every inch the £42.5m player, as he glides across the Wembley turf, with Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla all transcending their game just with his presence amongst them. And let’s not forget the industrious Tomas Rosicky; his never-say-die attitude and chance to win his first Arsenal trophy since his 2006 signing could be vital.
I am anticipating a nervy 2-0 Arsenal win, more in the scrappy manner of the Arsenal vs. Chelsea FA Cup Final in Cardiff, than that gloriously sunny FA Cup Final vs. Newcastle at the old Wembley Stadium. I wouldn’t be wholly surprised if Hull City even took the lead…
Anyhow, I hope all you Gooners embrace and savour the occasion like I intend to. And, come Saturday night, I hope London is awash with ecstatic fans bedecked in red and white.
Because the alternative is too awful to contemplate!
Have a great one, all of you.
Thanks for reading,