18 May 2014

Those first eight minutes? My fault.

I almost blew it. From a basement in a suburb just north of Chicago, Illinois, I almost blew it. As some of you may recall, I made rash vow to not ever wear my 2004-05 jersey on matchday, not until Arsenal broke its trophy drought. On Saturday, feeling blithe and confident, I put on the shirt, thinking surely, we would win. I made a run to the store. Surely, I'd be back in time to catch kick-off. Twenty antsy, angsty minutes later, I sit down to see we're down....0-2? I chin dropped. As I put my hands to my face, anticipating a debacle to make it a clean decade since we lost won silverware, I saw the crest on my chest—surrounded by a rich field of royal blue. Immediately, I yanked it off, threw it to the floor, and did as many push-ups as I could. I had been too hasty, and we all almost paid dearly for my hubris.

Thankfully, my own accursed luck was not enough to bring down this entire club. The second-half fight-back, inspired of course by Cazorla's first-half set-piece, was some stirring stuff. Credit Hull for withstanding the fury of our resolve, but there was just too much for them to resist in the end. I've learned my lesson and will no longer tempt fate. Enough of me for now. Back to what matters.

The Arsenal of recent years would have folded. They would have crumbled in the face of such a deficit. Yes, we'd seen some inspiring comebacks but had all too often been on the wrong end of an amazing result. I won't even name any, for I'm sure you're thinking of them or would prefer not to. When this squad faltered down the stretch, we blamed it on injuries and the thinness of the squad. Those were surely elements, but what seemed to really fade was the spirit, the confidence, the will that had propelled us to the top of the Prem and through the Group of Death. It was that same spirit that carried the day on Saturday. Instead of kvetching to Probert, our boys shrugged their shoulders, dusted themselves off, and rejoined the fray.

For as much credit as subs deserve or individual performances garner, this was a team-performance. Left and right, guys dug in and refused to cave in the face of the nine years of pressure, a season that was starting to inspire belief only to slip away, and a deficit never before overcome in the FA Cup final. That's right. No team in the history of the FA Cup has gone down two goals and gone on to win it. I'm not sure that's the script any of us might have chosen. Many, if not all of us, might have hoped for a breezier affair with the first two goals going to Arsenal on our way to a cake-walk of a coronation. Knowing now that we earned it and had to fight tooth-and-nail should make the victory all the more gratifying. It verifies the magic of the Cup, in my opinion. No matter the manner of Hull's early lead, it served a timely reminder that all bets are off and positions in the Prem or other divisions, matter little if at all when it's a one-off. Pit Arsenal against Hull ten times, and Arsenal might win nine. Make the FA Cup a best-of-three, and it still goes Arsenal's way. That's the whole damned point of the Cup, though—it's a free-for-all in which any club can win, even if the bigger club usually does. Those who sniff at the result and say, "yeah, but you beat Hull" just don't get it.

Wages, transfers, and records go out the window in a situation like this. I won't slight Hull by thanking them for playing the role of scrappy underdog to perfection. No. They played to win, and they had us on the ropes inside of ten minutes. They even have reason to be aggrieved, as our second goal came from a corner that might or even should have been a goal-kick. They came out swinging, landed a few haymakers, but just couldn't sustain the energy-level. I hope that their adventures in the Prem and Europa League next season offer some consolation.

As for me, for as long as I've followed Arsenal, it's always been at a distance and with a bit of time-lag. This is the first bit of silverware I've seen the club win with my own eyes. I only learned of 2005's FA Cup, for example, the next day on the internet. Back then, I either didn't know how to stream a match or the option didn't yet exist. I don't quite know. I do know that, for the first two goals, I screamed and bellowed enough to shake the firmament. After Cazorla's goal, I was defiant. Angry, even. After Koscielny's, I was relieved (and a bit nervous for his injury). In both cases, though, I fell to my knees, fists clenched, and roared. When Ramsey finally remembered touch over power, though, I cried. Silently. I'll admit it. Tears welled up in my eyes. They rolled down my cheeks. They pooled in that little ravine where my thumbs pressed against my jaw as I clasped my hands to my face. Even now, for as melodramatic as it seems, I get a little worked up. There's this fatigue in my jaw that I can't quite describe, and it's been hours, days even, since we won. Each time I swallow, there's this little hitch, this extra bit of effort, as if I'm not merely swallowing out of some random biological necessity but because I'm still gulping down the relief—nay, the glory—of the moment.

We won the Cup.

submit to reddit