By Tony Attwood
Where to begin?
I will quote from the Guardian this morning.
Wenger, to put it into context, has now won this trophy more times than Everton and Manchester City, and on as many occasions as West Ham, Sunderland and Leeds combined.
That’s quite a thought to kick us off.
I mentioned before that my friends didn’t get FA Cup final tickets, but I did, and so although I had the good fortune to be there, I had the journey to and from the Midlands on my own which took the shine off it a little. Football is best taken with friends.
For reasons that will not become clear at this point I turned on BBC Radio 5 for companionship as I set out soon after midday and listened to seemingly everyone talking up Villa, talking about how they clearly had a secret approach – perhaps the line up, perhaps the tactics, perhaps managerial nous (of which of course Mr Wenger has none) – which would take Arsenal by surprise and mean the underdogs would win.
They had, we were told, swatted Liverpool aside, and Liverpool were a mean lean cup winning machine, we were told, and this was going to be a really great and surprising cup final.
And so it was – although I could have done without the guy two along from me spending the first half telling his mate in a loud voice how this was going to be “another one of those days”, and how we weren’t taking our chances and were tactically naive.
Really, it is staggering that someone with such overwhelming insight and knowledge is not managing a top team by now. How does our nation let this happen? The Secretary of State for Education has questions to answer, methinks.
But at least he (the guy two along from me, not the Secretary of State) shut up in the second half. I feel sorry for his mate, who sat next to me. I only had most of one half of it, and then at one person removed. He has to listen to the appalling turgid crap each time he goes to a game.
Wembley itself was Wembley as we have come to know and be bemused by it. There were thousands, tens of thousands probably, milling about by the time they managed to get the gates open. We did get an apology on the speakers telling us that they knew we were out there (well there was a bloody cup final on so it was more than likely) and they would open the gates soon. But why delay? We’ll never know.
Inside, I thought I might have the drink I normally have. I had deliberately not gone to one of the pubs – no fun drinking in a pub without one’s mates, and the pubs at Wembley on a scale of 1 to 10 score about minus 156 for comfort, quality of drink, service etc etc. And they charge you £10 to go inside.
So I thought I’d partake of a glass of the red before taking my seat. But no, Wembley doesn’t sell red wine. It sells white wine, but not red. (If you are not a wine drinker, that won’t mean anything, but take it from me, it is daft). Hey ho. At least I didn’t try the food.
And ultimately to the game. Oh, the excitement of the Villa crowd as Aston Villa attacked en masse, towards the …
half way line.
And that was it. As far as I can tell I have been at the first ever cup final in which one side never had a single shot.
Villa fans were leaving 15 minutes before the end … 15 minutes before the end of a cup final. What sort of support is that? But then, this was the team which, according to Radio 5, was going to take the game to Arsenal with their secret tactics. Yep, the tactic of not having a shot. Ah Tim Sherwood. The great hope of English management.
Some Villa fans, let’s be fair, most Villa fans, stayed to the end. But to have any at all who walk out before the end of the Cup Final is awful. It is not what support is about – at least not in my view.
This was one of the great Cup Finals, and certainly the greatest I have had the honour to be at. And it was more – sitting there, Billy No Mates, I remembered one other wonderful occasion, one that I often think of as a key moment in my life of supporting Arsenal – the final match of the Unbeaten Season. Being at that is a memory to cherish, but this was so much more of a thrilling game.
And although I haven’t been back to check, it was something else too. A game in which I think I more or less predicted the team right. That’s a first I think.
There was a most almighty cheer, one hour before kick off as the teams were read out and Theo’s name came up. Everyone loved the idea, and of course it was right – it wasn’t a different tactic from Villa, it was the change from Arsenal that turned the game. They were not ready for this, and really didn’t know what to do. (Maybe they should have watched our final home match of the season).
So we won the cup for the second year running – it doesn’t happen that often and Arsenal have now done it twice… under Wenger. We are the all-time record holders, Arsene Wenger has equalled the record (set in the early days of football when the number of entrants was often tiny) of winning the FA Cup the most times, we have equalled the top score for a Wembley final…
And here’s something I didn’t hear on the radio… it will make it even easier to sign new players.
What the aaa have never understood is that Wenger is admired and adored in the footballing world for his ability to turn good players into great players, and great players into world beaters. Footballers want to play for him. But the aaa’s constant sniping made an impact and made players worry about our future, despite being in the Champs League each year. What sort of club, it asks, has supporters like that?
Now, with not only winning the cup two years running, twice, and being all time record holders for the number of wins (half of which have been achieved under Arsene Wenger) we showed the world how we can play and dominate a game. Wenger’s Arsenal Mark II.
This was one of the great performances in the Cup Final. I’ve not watched it again on TV yet, but I suspect when I do later today, it will be even more so. This was indeed an Arsène Wenger team that delivered one of the great moments of his amazing time with us.
This was Arsenal playing with style, distinction, pomp, and overwhelming certainty that they showed during the Unbeaten Season, and it is now back in the team.
And tucked away in my head as I came home rather late last night was the fact that over the last few weeks I have been taking the occasional pot shot at Liverpool, because I truly do believe that the media coverage of them has been wholly misleading. But the fact that Villa knocked Liverpool out in the semi shows the weaknesses Liverpool have. We were not that good in the semi, I fully admit, but we pulled ourselves together and got through. Liverpool couldn’t even beat Villa.
And that reminds me of another thing from Radio 5. They must have wheeled out 20 people before the game to say how Arsenal never turn up at the Cup Final, ignoring the fact that going into the game we were equal first in the cup winning records.
I haven’t had a chance yet to look at the newspaper reports, but I did take a quick glance at the Guardian, which gave me the opening line of my little report here. They also have this …
Wenger’s players did not fumigate the sport to the degree required [as a result of Fifa] but they did at least remind us about the reasons why we care so much for this daft old game and what makes it so great when everything comes together.
Santi Cazorla decorated the pitch with his mix of high skill and football intelligence. Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey provided the supporting cast and Alexis Sánchez left a wonderful calling card
And let me pick out one more. Remember Héctor Bellerín – and remember the quotes I ran the other day from just a couple of the thousands of commentators who said he and Coquelin were just not good enough. Just remember that, next time someone pronounces on a Wenger youth discovery.
If I believed in a god, which I don’t, I would thank him (or her) for allowing me to be there yesterday. It was a fitting way to commemorate the day of the passing of Ted Drake, the man who scored seven goals for Arsenal in one game, defeating Aston Villa.
Anniversary of the Day from the “Arsenal On this Day” files…
31 May 1947: Manager George Allison resigned, ending a 37 year association with the club. His final act was to write his autobiography: Allison Calling (a title which makes reference to his long-term work as a radio commentator). In the book Allison’s review of the Norris era contrasts starkly with Knighton’s, and calls into question many of Knighton’s assertions. Ludicrously it is Knighton’s book, written 22 years after he left the club, which is used as the prime source of history by many writers.