31 May 2015

12 FA Cups, and I'm still thirsty. Should've had one more pint...

While last season's FA Cup was a bum-clenching, nail-biting spectacle that took every ounce of belief, determination, and, yes, time that we could find, this one felt altogether different. For long, long stretches, it seemed that it was all Aston Villa could do to hold us at bay as we tested Shay Given time and time again only for him to turn in vital saves or get bailed out by last-ditch blocks from his defenders. Still, there was an electricity in the air, an anticipation—we were not going to struggle to find chances, nor would the keeper turn in a blinder. At some point, the flood walls would break. And break they did.

When Theo, playing through the middle for the second match in a row, found the back of the net in the 40th minute, leaping over a sprawling, desperate defender to blast home on a leaping half-volley, inevitability kicked in. This was going to be a romp. We didn't have to wait long for the second goal. Or the third. Yes, we did have to wait until stoppage-time for the fourth, but by then the party was in full swing. That second goal came five minutes after half-time as Alexis collected the ball about 30 yards out. Özil ran past on the wing, dragging two defenders away with him. Someone forgot to remind the Villans that Alexis cuts to the right, which he did and unleashed as scorching shot that flew in, glancing under the crossbar in a manner reminiscent of Cazorla's goal against Hull. For the third, because we always score from corners, Cazorla sent it in and Mertesacker lost Benteke to head it home. Not to be outdone, Giroud came on and, after Ox offered his customary I'm-in-the-box-and-got-fouled, routine, he collected the ball and found Giroud at the near-post. Game, set, and match.

For the second week in a row, we've seen a swash-buckling performance that led to four goals. Whether this "proves" that Theo can play through the middle on a regular basis is another question for another day. For now, exult in the fact that, after a trophy-drought that lasted almost a decade, we've now won three of them in 12 months. We even had a sniff of second place in a season in which we suffered so many early injuries that it seemed like we were performing a Monty Python-esque parody of an Arsenal season. The emergence of Coquelin might stand as the story of the season; all but forced into the starting lineup after injuries to Arteta, Flamini, and Wilshere, among others, le Coq blocked more attempts at penetration than anyone else, averaging 3.7 interceptions per game. Whether this proves that he is a long-term answer to our needs in defensive midfield is, again, another question for another time.

Set aside the questions and banish the doubts for now. We've gone to Wembley in the merry month of May, and we've won the world's oldest footballing competition for a record twelfth time, so many times in fact that it seems they'll be renaming the FA Cup itself after our own stadium. I'm only half-kidding. Corporate sponsors be damned, at least it's no longer sponsored by an abomination of a beverage that dares to call itself 'beer'—the liquid I wrung out of my jersey, a tepid, lukewarm swill consisting of my own sweat, that of other Gooners, beer (my own and that of other Gooners), and champagne—was (and always will be) far-more refreshing.

We've won the FA Cup. Congratulations, Southampton. You'll go into Europa League play, and we owe you some gratitude for the services of Theo, Ox, and Chambers. We've booked an appearance in next season's Community Shield against Chelsea, not to mention our own Champions League spot for the 18th consecutive season. Above all, though, we've won the FA Cup. Again. Savour it. A question more-pertinent than the previous two: can we go for three in a row?