I was looking for one word which can best describe what happened yesterday and I found it: triumph.
Not a win. You can get 30+ wins a season and still be left empty-handed. Not a success. Success is temporary. One day you are successful, the other you are not. Success isn’t all-encompassing. You can be a successful manager and a bad professor in management.
But triumph is something more. It’s permanent. No one can diminish it, no one can take it away from you. No one can say: “You are triumphant, but…”. If he tried, not only would he break all grammar rules of the English language, he would also defy all logic and common sense.
Yesterday was exactly that: a triumph. The triumph of Arsenal players. The triumph of our way. The triumph of Arsene Wenger. The triumph of Arsenal Football Club.
We delivered on a big stage over the course of 90 minutes. We showed up with a serious attitude. We took nothing for granted. We (or, rather, Arsene) fielded the best squad possible. They may have been only one sentimental choice in our starting XI: Wojciech Szczesny. However, having seen his performance, I wouldn’t say that. More on our Polish goalkeeper anon.
The other 10 players? Arguably our strongest: Bellerin, Mert, Kos, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Ramsey, Sanchez and Walcott. You could make a case Giroud is our preferred striker, but again Arsene was spot-on for omitting the Frenchman: Ollie was out of form, Walcott’s confidence levels were sky-high following his hat-trick. Seems a bit churlish singling anyone out after what was the best team performance I’ve seen this season, so I won’t. Consider it the FA Cup Final special.
Wojciech Szczesny: As any Arsenal fan, I was nervous when I saw the Pole start the game. He was hardly convincing in any of his performances this calendar year, you see. How wrong I was. Woj had little to do (nothing at all in the 2nd half), but boy did he do it well. He claimed every cross during the first 45 minutes and one was a special treat: Chezza punched the ball clear, towering over Benteke. I’m not sure Ospina could have mustered such a commanding aerial performance, so hats off to both Arsene and Szczesny. The Pole may yet have a future with us.
Hector Bellerin: If he would be so kind as to let Grealish out of his pocket. Thanks. In short, the Spaniard owned the right flank, overlapping with Ramsey nicely, while also being dead-serious about his defensive duties. The late shove on Grealish was particularly satisfying.
Per Mertesacker: bossed Benteke. Won the air completely, once even in the opposition’s box (oink, Given). The expression of unrestrained joy on the German’s face as he delivered the killer blow in the 62nd minute shows you how he cares for the Club. Can rival Wenger in this regard.
Laurent Koscielny: Bossielny. Mopped up everything there was to mop, won two headers in Villa’s box (was denied by a brilliant save from Given for the first) and looked really disgruntled to find a shirt over his head when his mate scored a goal. But my favourite moment came deep into the 2nd half, when Kos first one a header, then shielded the ball from Benteke and then just pushed the Belgian to the ground. No foul.
Nacho Monreal: a brilliant run and cross for the first and another solid defensive display. Who said the Spaniard isn’t good going forward?
Francis Coquelin: I can dig up the usual tackles and interceptions stats and I’m sure they will be impressive, but it’s the other side of Coq’s game that surprised me: his dribbling and passing ability. I noticed before how Francis can power past opponents with a sudden burst of speed (almost Wilshere-like), however yesterday the Frenchman took his dribbling to almost Cazorla’s level, wiggling out of several tight spots with the ball. As for his passing, you remember that diagonal pass for Theo? Of course you do.
My point is that, if he keeps improving his passing and dribbling, hell, we’ll surely only need back-up. We may not need even that.
Santi Cazorla: most touches a player ever made in the FA Cup final (100) and 95% pass accuracy. An assist for Per Mertesacker, superb positional play. Sometimes played even deeper than Coq (geddit? Deeper than Coq. Alright, I’ll stop now). A simply phenomenal display from Santi.
Mesut Ozil: He can find space in Japanese underground. He can create space with a change of direction or a drop of the shoulder. If someone continues measuring his impact based on his goals and assists tally, they probably also think Xavi is shite. Such people are better left ignored.
Aaron Ramsey: had the best two moments in the opening stages. Hit the side netting after a brilliant run from Bellerin and blasted over when one-on-one. However, he got into those positions and he also helped Bellerin out a great deal. Kudos to the Welshman.
Alexis Sanchez: baby, Alexis Sanchez oooh. He saved the best for last. An assist (a headed assist!) and a superb goal at a crucial time. Goal of the season, hands down. That makes it 25 goals and 13 assists in 52 games. Barcelona won the lottery.
Theodore James Franklin Delano Walcott: he scuppered an early chance and by minute 35 I was beginning to think Arsene made a mistake by starting Theo over Giroud. Then Walcott thumped an opener with his chocolate leg and I went into overdrive. My neighbour from an upper floor came investigating where all the screaming originated from. I want Theo to stay. Badly.
Jack Wilshere: a couple of nice dribbles and some exceptional champagne scenes. Though these came later.
Olivier Giroud: dyed his hair, though was pretty inconspicuous up until the last 5 seconds of the game. Then he showed up in the right place at the right time and completed Villa’s humiliation with a deft stroke of his left foot.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: the manager wasn’t going to sub him on, so Alex subbed him on himself. Played for 4 minutes overall (injury time included) and bagged an assist. Nice outing.
Jubilation. From the fact we’ve broken the record for most FA Cups. From the fact Arsene became the manager with most cups in the post-war era (he’s tied with Ramsay on 6 each on overall). From the fact we’ve won two trophies in two years.
It was a complete and utter…triumph. First and foremost, of Arsene’s philosophy over all the two-bit critics like Owen and Carragher, over all the haters and all the doubters, over world football. It’s something that will stay with him, and us, forever.