LONDON: Arsene Wenger is ready to sign his contract extension after what he considered as the most pressured of all his five FA Cup wins as manager of Arsenal writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Wenger, thrown in the air and then drenched in champagne by his players after their dramatic 3-2 extra-time win over Hull, described ending the club’s nine-year trophy drought as “a relief and a happiness.”
Those emotions exploded at the final whistle after a disastrous start in which Arsenal’s dozing defence conceded two goals in eight minutes.
Santi Cazorla reclaimed one goal in the first half with a magnificent free kick, Laurent Koscielny scrambled a second-half equaliser and man of the match Aaron Ramsey struck the extra-time winner to avert a penalty shootout.
Wenger said: “We made a demonstration of how not to start a Cup Final and then a demonstration of how to come back. We had waited a long time for this trophy. The happiness is linked with the suffering and the time we have to wait. It was a great moment at the end of the game.
“Also it was an important moment in the life of this team. To lose would have been a major setback but to win will be a good platform to come back even stronger next year.”
This is the challenge for both club and manager: Wenger will certainly be there next season after confirming that now he would sign the contract extension which the board had already offered him in mid-season as a gesture of confidence.
Arsenal had not won silverware since the FA Cup in 2005 and they had not won a Wembley final since 1998; their previous three FA Cup triumphs had all been accomplished in Cardiff while the home of the English game was being rebuilt.
Yet Wenger may look back, one day, and consider how the final – and perhaps even his managership – was saved by a goal-line clearance from Kieran Gibb in the 12th minute. Without that intervention Arsenal would have been 3-0 down and perhaps beyond redemption.
Wenger has come in for heavy criticism in recent seasons over his transfer strategy and team selections, both being considered symptoms of the lack of silverware ever since Arsenal left Highbury in 2006.
The record £40m signing of Mesut Ozil was welcomed last august as a sign that Wenger and Arsenal were losing their spending inhibitions – even if the midfielder spent most of the final looking like a little boy lost as the match raged around him. It was a surprise he lasted until half-time in extra time before being substituted.
Per Mertesacker played all the match and had a generally steady game though he must share defensive blame for the horror start and, late in extra time, for a mix-up with keeper Lukasz Fabianski which almost gifted Hull an equaliser for 3-3.
It was the substitution of Lukas Podolski on the hour, however, which made the difference. Some Arsenal fans jeered his replacement by Yaya Sanogo. Podolski had certainly not been the poorest of Arsenal’s players. But the switch was tactical: Sanogo joined Olivier Giroud at the centre of attack and unsettled the Hull defence decisively.
Despite victory, Arsenal need to keep on spending money if they are to make the most of breaking the psychological barrier of the trophy drought.
Bacary Sagna will leave on a free transfer to Manchester City so Arsenal need defensive reinforcements plus a quality centre-forward to replace Giroud. His 16 goals placed him eighth in the Premier scoring charts. Both Manchester City and Liverpool had two players who scored more goals.
Wenger said: “In England the Premier League is very tough. Look at the top four without Manchester United or Everton or Tottenham – who have invested a huge amount of money – while the club who won have invested an incredible amount of money. It’s difficult to beat them but we will try.”
That means not only on the pitch but also in the transfer market.