By Tony Attwood
It is not something that you are likely to read much about in the papers, and not something that social media want to tell us but it is true: Arsenal are this weekend becoming the most successful team in FA Cup history, and Arsene Wenger the most successful FA Cup manager of all time.
Up to this season, Man United and Arsenal were neck and neck in terms of number of times they have won the FA Cup, in terms of the number of times they have been defeated finalists, and in terms of number of times they have made the semi-finals. This season, with this semi-final appearance, Arsenal move one step ahead.
In terms of FA Cup success, the only person to challenge Mr Wenger was George Ramsay (1 March 1855 7 October 1935). He was club secretary and then manager of Aston Villa and he won the FA Cup six times with them. It was a record that stood for 95 years and is one of those that was spoken of as being “a record that would never be broken” until it was equalled by Arsène Wenger in 2015 with the final win over Aston Villa.
Now with this semi-final appearance Mr Wenger has overtaken George Ramsay as well. There is more along these lines in the most recent article from the Arsenal History Society in its latest article.
This is Mr Wenger’s 11th semi-final. His first was in 1998 at Villa Park against Wolverhampton Wanderers, when one of his early finds, Christopher Wreh, scored the only goal of the game.
Looking back he said, “It’s a different competition and every competition brings a psychological atmosphere. We have many times seen teams not doing well in the championship and, when it is a different competition, suddenly they are doing very well. They don’t carry the negative vibes of bad experiences into the competition. When you walk out, half of the stadium is red and half is blue, so you realise it is something different.”
He has also been talking about the first of the two recent FA Cup wins:
“It was special pressure in 2014; this time it is a special opportunity. It was difficult for us in 2014. We were super-favourites. We also had not won a trophy for a long time and people questioned us about that. We had the opportunity in the semi-final to go to the final and win the Cup. Overall, the pressure was big. This time, it is really a 50-50 game. If you ask the neutrals, maybe they will say City are favourites, even.
“When you have negative results like we had, it can divide or unite. At some stage you have to show you can fight together. People will say it’s normal you win at Middlesbrough but, when you go through a bad period, it’s difficult in your head to win everywhere. The fact that we fought and won had a positive impact.”
As for today he added, “The new Wembley is more like the new stadiums you meet everywhere but it is still massive. What is great is that you see your fans coming in and it is an experience that they and their children never forget. You want them to be pleased when they go home.”
Possibly the team with the most nerves this weekend will not be Arsenal, but rather Tottenham – and if that is the case, it is only their fault. When Tottenham were debating the issue of the Wembley move Arsene Wenger spoke openly of his experience of Arsenal playing there:
“It was a nightmare. In hindsight, it was the wrong decision,” Wenger said in January 2016. “We decided to go to Wembley but we didn’t feel at home. The pitch was bigger, the ground was different and for the English players it was something completely unusual. We were used to a tight pitch. It was a disadvantage for sure.”
Now I have often written about the way that ground changes affect clubs. (See for example “It’s the stadium stupid”). We’ve seen it with Arsenal both at Wembley and the move to the Ems, but it has also affected virtually every club that has tried it.
And as predicted Tottenham ran into the very same problems that Arsenal experienced when they played their Champions League games at home between 1998 and 2000. Tottenham left the Champions League, went to the Europa and quickly left that too.
In fact Tottenham have only won twice in nine games at Wembley and indeed had a run of six defeats in a row.
One factor everyone mentions is the size of the Wembley pitch. It measures 105 by 69 metres, (7,245 square metres). That is the same size as the second biggest pitch in the Premier League. The White Hart Lane pitch is the second smallest, at 6,700 square metres – and such a change will affect a pressing game taken high up the pitch. By comparison, Arsenal’s pitch is 7140 sq metres (105m x 68m) – just so one metre narrower.
Chelsea will have no such problems today, but if they were to take a three year contract at Wembley while their ground is being rebuilt, that could have quite an impact – an impact that might be carried forward when they returned to Stamford Bridge.
- The FA Cup semi-finals Sat 22 and Sun 23 April – The Match Officials. We need to take Pawson totally out of the picture.
- The weird story of Uefa attempting to by-pass world doping rules is finally resolved.
- You really really won’t want to believe who Arsenal are on the verge of signing
- The Big 7 clubs, how much they spent and what good is it doing?
- What the media won’t tell you about football 5: Fifa lends money to Switzerland
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 4 – referee variations
- The final transfer rumours: 3 new names to make 66 players tipped for Arsenal
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 3 – referee home bias