Aaron Ramsey’s winning goal for Arsenal in their 3-2 FA Cup final victory against Hull City was a moment of sublime redemption for the player, his manager, his club and the old competition itself.
Arsenal 3-2 Hull City
His brilliantly executed shot, delivered with the outside of his right foot is likely to be remembered among the best of FA Cup final goals in the years ahead as it completed one of the greatest comebacks in FA Cup final history and ended Arsenal’s nine-year wait for silverware.
A work of exquisite construction and skill, it also sealed Ramsey’s permanent place in Arsenal’s folklore as an FA Cup winner and ended what started out as a great season for the 23-year-old Wales international midfielder on a high after he suffered a long low spell injured on the sidelines. Ramsey battled back from a serious leg fracture suffered at Stoke in 2010 to reclaim his place in the Arsenal side and was enjoying his best spell at the club with 13 goals by the end of December before a thigh injury curtailed his season for more than three months.
His absence coincided with Arsenal’s fall from the summit of the Premier League while his return last month heralded a form revival with five straight wins to clinch fourth place and Champions League football for a 17th successive season.
His 108th-minute winner brought them their first tangible success since they beat Manchester United in the 2005 cup final on penalties and ended all hopes Hull had of winning their first major trophy and emulating the likes of Swindon Town, Luton Town and Birmingham City, who have all scored huge upset wins over Arsenal in League Cup finals at Wembley in the past.
Hull’s trophy drought has lasted considerably longer than Arsenal’s – ever since they were formed in 1904 – and even when they went 2-0 up in the first eight minutes with goals by James Chester and skipper Curtis Davies, few people believed the cup was already secured.
Arsenal recovered from that dreadful start with a brilliant 17th-minute free kick by Santi Cazorla that put them back in the game and there was an air of inevitability about Laurent Koscielny’s 71st-minute equaliser after a gutsy and resilient fightback.
Arsenal had taken control of the match for long periods before Koscielny scored and although Hull played some neat football of their own, they rarely threatened to score again as the heat and humidity in a sun-drenched Wembley seemed to sap their energy more than it did Arsenal’s.
The winner came with penalties looming large and was a goal worthy of clinching any match as Olivier Giroud cleverly backheeled the ball into Ramsey’s path, enabling the midfielder to arrow the ball into the net with the outside of his right foot through a narrow gap between Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor and the post.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger could hardly contain his usual urbane self-control at the end as his long wait for a trophy finally ended.
He was chased across the Wembley pitch and doused in champagne by his joyous players and had to change out of his suit into a club tracksuit for his post-match interviews when he confirmed he was extending his 18-year stay at the club.
Though few doubted he was leaving, defeat by Hull might have been one too many for a man unfairly dubbed as “a specialist in failure” by Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho, who actually ended up winning nothing in his first season back at Chelsea.
But while Wenger delighted in what he described as the most important success of his eight major trophies at Arsenal, he was confident this success was not the end of a journey, but the start of a new one.
“It was an important moment in the life of this team,” said Wenger. “To lose would have been a major setback but to win will be a good platform to build on.”
Although Saturday’s win was dramatic and emotional and the first cup final for 48 years in which the winners have recovered from trailing by two goals to win, much of Arsenal’s play was ragged at the edges.
Giroud, who thundered a header against the crossbar at the start of extra time, is not the answer in attack for a team challenging for titles or European honours, which is why Wenger has been searching for a top-class striker for the last few seasons.
German international striker Lukas Podolski also blows hot and cold and was so lacklustre against Hull that Wenger replaced him with the gangly Yannick Sanogo after 61 minutes.
More than 200,000 were out in the north London sunshine yesterday celebrating their club’s overdue success and while they will be enjoying the moment, they, like Wenger, know the truth.
They might have turned the corner, but there are plenty more obstacles to overcome if they are to enjoy the kind of sustained success they enjoyed in Wenger’s early years at the club.