After nearly a decade of winning nothing, a stream of top four finishes the only real accomplishment to separate them from total mediocrity, this win is a significant one for Arsenal. And particularly after having been 2-0 down, to ultimately beat Hull 3-2 after extra time. Arsenal and their supporters have every right to bask in the glory.
The win also saved Arsène Wenger’s job, as he is expected to finally sign a £24 million three-year deal this week and renew his contract with Arsenal, which was due to expire next month, finally concluding the never-ending saga surrounding his future. But Wenger cannot afford to sit pretty with this cup win, reveling in this one success, believing he’s done all that is required of him now they’ve finally won a trophy. Instead, he must use this win to build, to evolve and grow his team so that it can attain the level to truly compete with the top sides to win the league and set the stage for more success. And if Arsène is worth his new £7.5 million per year contract, he will do just that.
It has been reported that the manager will receive £100 million to spend on transfers as he enters his third decade at the club, thanks in part to commercial deals with new kit manufacturer Puma and sponsors Emirates. Arsenal’s defensive midfield needs rejuvenation; its current strikers need support and a new one is a priority as well. The squad needs depth, and Wenger needs to choose experience over youth.
After the Cup Final, Wenger spoke about bringing in new signings, including Loic Remy from QPR and Morgan Schneiderlin, who may be ready to leave Southampton for the Gunners. And interest between Arsenal and the Toulouse defender Serge Aurier seems to be mutual.
Though the majority of the squad are on long-term contracts, it is likely that Wenger will have to replace players. Bacary Sagna, a free agent as of next month, has yet to agree to new terms with the club, and has allegedly opened talks with Manchester City, though Wenger appears anxious to keep the player who has made more first team appearances than any other at the club. There’s Lukasz Fabianski, whose contract is also ending and has stated the final (in which he started ahead of Wojciech Szczesny) was probably his last game for the club. The future of Lukas Podolski, not always a first selection for the manager, at Arsenal is also in doubt.
As for those potentially available, would James Milner actually bring anything to the table should he trade Manchester for London? Mario Manduzkic is preparing his exit from Bayern Munich, but would he choose Arsenal? Is it even remotely likely that Chelsea would sell Petr Cech to them? And Wenger’s track record dictates that, although he has set his sights on Borussia Dortmund’s midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, he may well end up buying some young French player no one has ever heard of.
The reality is that Arsenal has had players who can win trophies over the last nine years, but never did quite reach those heights. And for a club that, in its past, won the FA Cup four times in eight years (between 1998 and 2005), one in nine years isn’t really good enough.
Without detracting from the magnitude of the achievement – in itself the FA Cup is a major competition, held in high regard – Arsenal still finished fourth in the league, again, and their Champions League progress faltered for yet another season, finishing second in their group and consequently going out to Bayern Munich in the round of 16. They suffered some humiliating defeats (notably the 6-0 to Chelsea in March), and had to beat a plucky Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final on penalties. And there was always the opportunity for Arsenal to slip up on Saturday, and for it to end in a so-called giant killing. Arsenal conceded two early goals -not for the first time this season- and the final easily could have gone Hull’s way, if not for the Tigers’ failure to hold on.
Since their triumph on Saturday, the focus of the Arsenal fans, and more significantly, the players, has been on Chelsea and particularly Spurs –and why? This demonstrates a certain mentality that they have cultured, perhaps bred by the continuous lack of honours and the desperation to ensure a fourth place finish at the end of each season, from which they must remove themselves, especially now, and instead focus on accomplishing even more. While winning a trophy does come with the license to lord it over your rivals, a club that has won just the one piece of silverware in nine years should concentrate on celebrating, and ultimately proving to their rivals that this is but a step on the path to securing long-term success.
Can Arsenal build upon their FA Cup success? What does the future hold for Bacary Sagna? Who will Wenger sign this summer?
Read the rest of Nikki’s Top Flight London section here!