FA Cup final: Gunners end 9-year curse with 3-2 win over Hull

   The Gunners did not have their best stuff on Saturday. But they showed enough mental toughness and resilience in the FA Cup final to beat Hull 3-2 in extra time. Bruce’s game plan was to congest the midfield with a 3-5-2 formation that could turn into a 5-4-1 system when the Tigers lost possession. Such a tactical ploy left Hull vulnerable on the flanks. But Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, the only players who could run at defenders, were not even in the squad because of injury.

   Arsenal’s passing game was poor: slow tempo, unnecessary touches and a lack of movement. Wenger therefore switched from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2 system in the second half by replacing Podolski with Sanogo to put more pressure on Hull’s centerbacks. Sending on Rosicky and Wilshere for Ozil and Cazorla on the wings helped further stretch the Tigers’ defense in extra time.

A terrible start

   All that talk about tactics hardly mattered in the opening minutes as the Gunners were not at the races. In a poor start similar to the heavy losses at Liverpool and Chelsea, Arsenal conceded two goals after barely eight minutes. Let’s give some credit to Hull for pressing high up the pitch to win the ball back. But maybe there was a bit of complacency from the Gunners, who had beaten the Tigers twice in the Premier League this season. Our chances looked even better on Saturday since both Jelavic and Long were cup-tied and could not play the final.

   Despite weaker striking options, Hull made the Arsenal defense look really bad. No one marked Huddlestone on the edge of the box in the fourth minute. The Hull midfielder’s volley from a corner was diverted home by Chester for the opening goal. That lack of defensive focus was again exposed four minutes later. Quinn rounded Ramsey to cross for Bruce, who outjumped three Gunners to plant a header against the post. Davies beat Gibbs to the rebound to slam the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead.

On the verge of disaster

   There was a bit of bad luck in the first goal, but the second goal was the result of three lost duels. I guess every Arsenal supporter became anxious each time the Tigers had a set piece because they seemed to win every header. The Gunners were on the verge of disaster in the 13th when Bruce outjumped two Gunners to power a header that Gibbs cleared off the line. That was definitely the turning point for Arsenal. Erasing a two-goal deficit is no small feat but rallying from three goals down would have been a massive task.

   Koscielny was arguably our most shaky defender. His poor positional play allowed Fryatt to be clean through on goal in the 42nd, but some poor officiating saved Koscielny from embarrassment. The referee blew the whistle when Koscielny fell to the ground although Fryatt made no foul. Fryatt outmuscled Koscielny again in the 54th to win the ball in the play that led to Huddlestone’s long-range effort over the bar.

Ozil and Podolski go missing

   By definition, great players are those who step up in the big games. Unfortunately, Ozil and Podolski disappointed on Saturday. Ozil never managed to impact his team’s passing game the way a talented playmaker should. He struggled again with his finishing by failing to convert a low cross from Podolski in the 22nd. And Podolski was not quick enough to connect with good passes from Giroud in the 44th and Ozil in the 50th.

   On the other hand, Cazorla, Giroud and Ramsey rose to the occasion. Cazorla pulled one back in the 17th by curling a free kick into the top corner. Giroud could have scored the winner before extra time. The Frenchman pounced on a poor clearance from the Hull defense in the 82nd to fire a bouncing volley that McGregor turned around the post. Back to goal in the 90th, Giroud rolled away from his marker to test McGregor with a low strike.

Hull’s negative approach

   The equalizer came from a set piece in the 71st. Sagna met a corner from Cazorla for a header that deflected off Giroud and into the path of Koscielny, who spun to score from close range. Practicing set pieces can be boring, but they often make the difference in the tight games. Only one of the five goals scored in the FA Cup final came from open play.

   The Tigers were furious because it should have been a goal kick and not a corner. They even claimed it was the turning point of the match. If the Tigers are honest, they should realize that the turning point was their negative attitude in the second half. They made it clear at the restart that time wasting was their priority. It’s only when Arsenal took the lead in extra time that they created their first chance since halftime.

Three penalties not awarded

   The referee definitely made the wrong call by giving Arsenal a corner. But the Tigers shouldn’t complain about the officiating because they got away with one dirty foul and three obvious penalties. It should have been a yellow card when Rosenior made a late tackle from behind on Sagna in the 24th. I felt Hull sometimes tried to rough up the Gunners and took advantage of Probert’s leniency. Arsenal did not get any free kick when Giroud was the victim of a late challenge in the seventh minute. The referee finally handed his first yellow card in the 60th for Huddlestone’s stamp on Cazorla.

   Arsenal should have leveled before Koscielny’s goal. But Probert somehow missed three penalties. Huddlestone pulled Giroud by the neck in the 58th when the Frenchman was about to head a long ball from Gibbs. Then Livermore diverted Ozil’s cross with a deliberate handball in the 64th. Four minutes later, Davies tripped Cazorla as the Spaniard was cutting inside. It’s hard not to be worried about the level of officiating in England after such a display.

Our most efficient duo

   In the end, the Gunners were carried across the finish line by Ramsey and Giroud, the two players who fired Arsenal to the top of the Premier League in the first half of the season. The mutual understanding they have developed in the last two seasons was obvious at Wembley. In the fourth minute of extra time, Ramsey stole the ball from Davies and crossed for Giroud, whose header hit the bar.

   Ramsey was the Gunner who showed the most desire on Saturday. He wanted it so much that he tried to score the winner with a couple of long-range strikes that went nowhere. He became more accurate in stoppage time. He had a low drive stopped by McGregor in the seventh minute. Two minutes later, he played a one-two with Giroud before firing into the side-netting from a tight angle. The pair combined again in the 19th to crack the Hull defense. Giroud set up Ramsey with a backheel flick and the Wales midfielder sent a first-time effort into the bottom corner for the winning goal.

Sanogo’s contribution

   You can be sure that Wenger would have been criticized for his lack of striking options if Arsenal had lost the final. Sanogo was our only forward on the bench. The 21-year-old Frenchman still made a decent contribution. An unmarked Gibbs took a low pass from Sanogo in the 79th but missed the target from eight yards. Then Giroud teed up Sanogo, who fired wide from the edge of the box in the 90th. In extra time, Sanogo intercepted a back pass from a defender but missed again the target. He nearly scored his first goal for the club two minutes from time but was denied by McGregor. I guess his best memory from the final will be the part he played in the winning goal by finding Giroud inside the area.

   The closing minutes were stressful. Fabianski nearly wasted his teammates’ efforts with some poor decision-making. Mertesacker slipped in the 26th and headed the ball into the path of Aluko. Fabianski had Koscielny to cover him but he still decided to challenge Aluko outside the area. Aluko dribbled past Fabianski and hit a low shot that flirted with the goal line before sailing wide. That reckless play explains why Fabianski is the second-choice goalkeeper at the club behind Szczesny. Fabianski made amends in the 29th by stopping a long-range strike from Aluko.

Using the FA Cup as a springboard

   The Gunners ended a nine-year title drought by lifting the FA Cup. It’s the club’s first title since they have moved to the Emirates Stadium. Hopefully, the negativity around the club will be put on hold for the next couple of seasons, helping the club work in a more serene atmosphere. However, the defensive frailties and the lack of striking options exposed in the final are a reminder that the Gunners need reinforcements this summer to become legitimate contenders in the Premier League. Winning a title should not be an end in itself but a springboard for another successful season.

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Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

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