Friday 15 December 2017

Arsene Wenger's glory gamble pays in gold for Gunners

Arsenal 3 Hull city 2 FA Cup final (after extra-time)

The Arsenal squad celebrate after the FA Cup Final
The Arsenal squad celebrate after the FA Cup Final
Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs and Hull City's Ahmed Elmohamady (right) battle for the ball during the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo
Hull City's Curtis Davies (L) shoots past Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs to score his team's second goal during their FA Cup final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London REUTERS/Darren Staples (
Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs (R) consoles Hull City's Tom Huddlestone, following Arsenal's victory in the FA Cup final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Hull City's Curtis Davies celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce celebrates after Curtis Davies scores his sides second goal of the game during the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
(L-R) Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen celebrate with the FA Cup trophy in the stands after during the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal leads the trophy celebrations after the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
The Arsenal FC players celebrate on their bus during the Arsenal FA Cup Victory Parade in Islington, London. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

Henry Winter

When the pressure was weighing down on him to a degree that would have crushed many managers, Arsene Wenger stuck to his bold principles.

Entering the second half of extra-time in an epic FA Cup final, Arsenal's manager could have started preparing for penalties. Instead, Wenger went for glory. He replaced two of those willing to take spot-kicks, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil, and sent on Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. He acknowledged the gamble.

"Yes, especially Cazorla. I would not have put Ozil on the penalty list, but Cazorla is a serious penalty-taker and that's why I was hesitant. I tried desperately for it not to go to penalties because I didn't have many players on the pitch who were specialists.

"I was worried by the decision I was making because I already had two strikers on the pitch (Olivier Giroud and Yaya Sanogo). Jack is not a penalty taker. Rosicky isn't a penalty taker. Giroud had cramp. It paid off, but we had a horrible feeling in the game for a long time.

"But in this job, it's how the game finishes. The rest, nobody cares about."

RECORD

The record books show that Hull were pushed back by Wilshere and Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey scored to complete a remarkable recovery from 2-0 down and Arsenal were partying, looking ahead to a bright new era.

"The whole club was under that kind of pressure without having won for years, but that will help to get that off our shoulders a little bit and focus on getting stronger,'' said Wenger.

"I work seven days a week because I want to win. Unfortunately you don't win on command. I try my best." He admitted to self-doubt. "I questioned myself.'' Not yesterday. Not with a parade in the north London sunshine.

The eighth major trophy of Wenger's time at the club felt even more special for Arsenal because of the nine-year wait and because of the two-hour ordeal at Wembley. All the old doubts about Arsenal's frailty of mind and defensive vulnerability surfaced as they fell 2-0 behind. Hull were too sharp, too hungry, too well-organised in their 3-5-1-1 formation.

James Chester turned in Tom Huddlestone's wayward shot. Curtis Davies reacted to finish from a tight angle. At 17.10, Arsenal's world was in disarray. Wenger, out-thought by Steve Bruce, was surely heading for an ignominious end to his 18-year reign. Ozil looked overpriced at £22m, let alone £42m.

Giroud was similarly taking time to realise the scale of the occasion and the level of desire required to deal with Davies and Hull's defence. How different the course of the final and history's verdict could have been had Kieran Gibbs not prevented Alex Bruce's header crossing the line.

Arsenal stood by the abyss, needing leaders to pull them back.

Ramsey took responsibility looking to take the game to Hull. Cazorla swept in a fabulous free-kick after 19 minutes and one of the most intense, absorbing FA Cup finals in recent memory seized the imagination of the 89,345 in the stadium and the millions watching on TV.

The seconds melted into minutes. Arsenal fans stared fearfully at the Wembley clocks as they ticked down. Hull's supporters were magnificent, backing their tiring team. Wenger's first substitute, the vigorous Sanogo, wore Hull down more.

Laurent Koscielny equalised after a corner and, even if Hull's complaints were justified that the set-piece was incorrectly given, then Arsenal could counter-claim about legitimate penalty shouts ignored by Lee Probert.

Hull still had a chance, a shot at glory, but the livewire Sone Aluko was unfortunate his effort went wide with Arsenal's defence in full chaos mode.

Wenger then made that bold move, Wilshere and Rosicky opened up holes and Ramsey settled an epic final from Giroud's back-heel.

For Hull, there can be a sense of pride at gracing the final, of self-respect in knowing they gave everything, but there can be no consolation for the vanquished.

Hull had flown so high, lifted by their fans, daring to dream and then had been brought crashing to earth on the most famous strip of grass in sport, and it hurt.

In the dressing-room, Bruce told his shattered players that they had been "valiant" and "gallant" and they had.

"Sometimes footballers get a bad name, and rightly so on certain occasions, but they are an absolute delight to manage,'' said Bruce. "They are all desperate to do well. We were very close to winning the FA Cup – we were 2-0 up against the mighty Arsenal.

"But there's no consolation. It means p**s all to me, the losers' medal. It's taken me 16 years to get this far (as a manager). Sometimes you get pigeonholed as an English or British manager. I could give you five or six (British managers) who could do you a fantastic job, but the big jobs seem to go to foreign coaches.

"The one thing I can take heart in is the pride in the team. They couldn't have given us any more. We have to make sure this isn't the end of the story."

The sight of more than 25,000 Hull fans, turning huge swathes of Wembley into a rippling blanket of amber and black, sent out a powerful message to any potential signings tuning in. The pictures of Bruce urging his players on, of Hull rattling Arsenal, created an enticing advertisement for the club.

CHALLENGE

"I hope so,'' said Bruce. "That's always the challenge. We landed two or three really big ones last summer, Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, and we've got to try and secure Jake, if we can. We're spending a lot on the academy and its job is to produce some young players. But that's for the future. I'll probably get the sack when it's all in place!"

Bruce must strengthen his squad, and get them back for early pre-season, because Hull have Europa League qualifying rounds in July.

"We have to look forward to European football,'' smiled Bruce slightly ruefully. "We'll have to give it a shot. We're going to have to try and enjoy it. Whether we've got the manpower I'm not so sure, because there's all sorts of rules. We certainly need another five or six players.''

And he needed a holiday. "I'm going to have to because I'm absolutely b*******d," said Bruce, who was keen to congratulate Wenger. "He's a top, top manager. They hadn't won a trophy for nine years but they haven't got a divine right to win. He's won the FA Cup five times now. That's not a bad record.''

As for Wenger, the Frenchman smiled at a question of whether he would be expecting a 'well done' letter from Jose Mourinho.

"I don't mind!" said Wenger, clearly enjoying the question. For this was a special day when Wenger answered many questions. Boldly. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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