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Sunday 18 May 2014

North London Is Red

It was an arduous task escaping the carnival atmosphere around Highbury, on my way to Wembley on Saturday. Opting for the next best thing, the many thousands who’d missed out on the gold dust of a match ticket were bursting out onto the streets, having gravitated to London N5, to savour the occasion at the live screening at our gaff, or to watch the game in one of the many gaily bedecked Gooner boozers.

This impromptu street party extended way past Finsbury Park and on up Stroud Green Road, nearly all the way to Hornsey. Much to my relief, having eventually picked a route through this positively overwhelming red & white mass of humanity, the pessimistic thought crossed my mind that if the worst came to the worst, this humungous Gooner hootenanny would rapidly degenerate into one almighty wake!

And it really couldn’t have got much worse in the opening ten minutes at that other Home of Football. We were all left so shell-shocked, with the stunned silence at our end of Wembley only broken by the sound of 25,000 jaws hitting the deck, as our dreams of the culmination of our trophy drought unraveled before our very eyes, quite so rapidly that I couldn’t really evaluate exactly what had transpired, until I returned home and watched the TV highlights, late on Saturday night.

Whether it was due to the pressure related anxieties of being such outright favourites and the toll of our long barren run, or a far too laidback, end of season complacency, it was evident that the Gunners weren’t totally switched on as this contest commenced, whereas Steve Bruce had lit a “nothing to lose” fire under the opposition’s backsides.

When the first goal hit the back of the net, we didn’t panic, but instead reassured one another that we at least had another 87 minutes to rectify matters. We also took some solace in the knowledge that going behind so early on did at least guarantee that we’d be saved from enduring the ennui of an encore of our decidedly sterile semifinal outing. However we were soon left gob-smacked, in utter disbelief, with only Kieran Gibbs’ goaline clearance denying Hull a centre-back hat-trick and preventing it from being game over.

With the Gunners having toiled industriously to earn our reputation as perennial big game bottlers, evidently in order to shed this unwanted mantle we badly needed a goal, double quick, to establish a foothold in this match. After having spent much of the latter half of the season hiding in plain sight, avoiding responsibility, it was faith restoring to witness Santi Cazorla grabbing the ball, absolutely determined that he and no one else was going to craft the gorgeous 17th minute set-piece.

Santi’s free-kick aside, for what this encounter lacked in additional, equally ecstatic instances of adroitness, it sure made up for in high drama. Although truth be told, I’ve been very poorly for some months and it required a massive effort just to make it to my seat at Wembley on Saturday. So I very much doubt it was in the best interests of my health for me to be put through the wringer in such a ridiculous emotional rollercoaster of an encounter. The palpitations were so strong when Kieran Gibbs blazed his sitter over the bar late on that it occurred to me to ponder on the proximity of the nearest defibrillator.

Yet despite gaining the momentum, after Koscielny had earned complete redemption by scuffing in his scrappy equalizer, I must admit that I began to fear the worst after we failed to press home this advantage during the 90 mins. The Gunners began dropping like ninepins during the brief break, suffering from cramp, while the Tigers feigned an absence of fatigue by remaining on their feet.

Mercifully, with an injection of extra-time energy from Wilshere and Rosicky, Arsène addressed this issue and for just about the first time in the game, the Gunners unsettled the opposition’s resilient defence, by going direct and making their superior talent tell, by taking them on with the ball.

It was fitting that Aaron Ramsey should finally decide the outcome, in such fine style and at long last shake the monkey off our back of not having won a trophy since the move to our new home. The vast majority of clubs exist without winning major trophies and it’s indicative of Wenger’s era of relative success that the absence of silverware had become quite such a big deal.

Having put this matter to bed, once and for all, it was brilliant to see Arsène and the boys being able to relax and enjoy themselves, in the glorious sunshine at Sunday’s trophy parade, surrounded by an ecstatic sea of red and white. Here’s hoping that they all come back next season, fit and healthy from their World Cup exertions and that with the aid of a couple of shrewd additions, the Gunners can go one better.

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