Everyone expected it to be a whitewash; Arsenal, A top tier team that led the Premier League into February and finished fourth, against Hull City, a team only two spots away from relegation. When they met less than a month ago, Arsenal reminded Hull of the gap between the two teams on the ladder when they easily defeated the Yorkshire team 3-0. Arsenal had gone nine years without a trophy, and this FA cup final was Hull City’s greatest achievement in any cup competition since its founding in 1904.
This wouldn’t be worth writing if the game wasn’t magnificent. Oh and how magnificent it was. James Chester, Hull City’s finest finisher this season, kicked off the scoring in the fourth minute when he flicked Tom Huddlestone’s rocket volley past Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. Arsenal looked sloppy; their usual slow play in the back line was being torn apart by the vibrant and driven Hull midfield combination of Huddlestone, Curtis Davies, Ahmed Elmohamady, and Stephen Quinn.
It was almost inevitable that the flurry of Hull attacks would culminate in another goal. Just four minutes after the first, Fabianski parried a ball off the post to the feet of Davies, who punished the keeper with rifling volley into the net.
Arsenal looked finished. It was eight minutes into the game and already the sold-out stadium of 90,000 was divided into cries of despair from Arsenal supporters and zealous victory chants from Hull fans.
Hull looked set to pull even further ahead when Alex Bruce launched a coasting header from the eighteen yard line. A reversal of the 3-0 thumping Arsenal delivered to Hull in their previous encounter was only averted by the quick intervention of Kieran Gibbs, who cleared the ball off the line with a well-placed header. Everything was written on the faces of the managers. The usual poker-face of Wenger had been transformed into a scowl so deep that it alone may have been responsible for propelling Arsenal to fight back. This devil-scaring expression contrasted sharply with that of Steve Bruce, Hull’s manager and the happiest man in the stadium. His Jolly dancing and fist pumping were a highlight of the first fifteen minutes.
Just when all hope looked gone, with Hull pressing every opportunity and counter-attacking with speed and precision, Arsenal’s saving grace Santi Cazorla stepped up to the plate. Alex Bruce, the son of Hull manager Steve Bruce, still beaming from the shock of Hull’s opening ten minutes, committed to a sloppy tackle twenty-five yards from his own line. Cazorla, who appeared shaky, sweaty and unnerved as he lined up to take the set-piece, was anything but in its execution. An unbelievable floating strike tipped the ball off the fingertips of Allan McGregor into the top left hand corner of the goal. McGregor’s last second step to the right had ensured his failure to save it, and he acknowledge his error when, shaking with anger, he lashed out at the goalpost with a string of punches.
And just like that, Arsenal was back. Game on.
The next 56 minutes were marked by a constant flow of attacks and counter-attacks from each team. Chances went begging for Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny at one end and Elmohamady at the other. The smile slowly slipped off Steve Bruce’s face as Hull dropped their pace and began to whither under the constant stream of Arsenal offensives.
Then came the equaliser in the 71st minute. Nothing spectacular, but a swooping corner saw a rush in the Hull box that ended with Koscielny tipping it past McGregor. Replays suggested it shouldn’t have been a corner, but Cazorla had been robbed of two penalties earlier on by the referee, Lee Probert, so both teams were the victims of rough decisions.
With the scores levelled the pressure was on, as both teams attacked en masse and then retreated quicker than the French when their opponents countered. Eventually exhaustion got the better of both teams, and the game was clearly going into extra time.
With the prospect of a penalty shootout unappealing to Arsenal, who had dominated the game since their second goal, they expended their last vestiges of energy in extra time. Hull could not help but fall behind, and eventually it was clear that the players considered their chances of a win more likely if the game went to a penalty shootout.
Out of this haze of desperation came Aaron Ramsey, a shining light in Arsenal’s midfield throughout the match. His connection with Olivier Giroud’s backheel in the 108th minute slipped between McGregor and the inside post to secure the biggest come from behind victory in an FA Cup final.
For the first time in nine years Wenger cracked a smile. For the first time in nine years Arsenal hoisted a trophy; the only London team to do so this year.