Saturday evening saw Arsenal retain the FA Cup with a 4-0 win over Aston Villa at Wembley in the Final, making Arsene Wenger the most successful manager in the competition since the early 20th century.
Now that the Gunners’ victory celebrations have begun to die down, here are five big moments during their run this year that ensured the North London club kept hold of the trophy.
Rosicky’s AMEX Stadium stunner
Having seen off Hull City in the Third Round (avoiding revenge for last year’s Final), Arsenal travelled to Brighton & Hove Albion for the second time in three FA Cup campaigns and although they were comfortable for most of the match the visitors still gave themselves a few scares. When Chris O’Grady pulled a goal back for the home side in the second half to make the score 1-2, it looked as if Arsenal were in real trouble, but at the hour mark the game was effectively secured by one of the most experienced heads on the pitch. Tomas Rosicky intercepted the ball from Brighton in midfield and dribbled forward before finishing an Olivier Giroud one-two with a volley from the edge of the box into the net. The goal knocked any wind out of their hosts’ sails and although they pulled a goal back in the dying minutes it was to be Arsenal and their Czech midfielder’s day.
Di Maria gets shirty at Old Trafford
Without question the toughest match in Arsenal’s cup run, they had some big moments of luck at Old Trafford in order to beat Manchester United and progress to the Semi Final. Not that they didn’t deserve the victory – Arsenal were certainly the better side overall – but the result was ultimately decided on some key errors of judgment by United players. The most obvious one would be Antonio Valencia’s weak back-pass that gave Danny Welbeck the opportunity to put The Gunners in the lead against his old side, but it was a moment of petulance from United’s marquee summer signing that ended their realistic hopes of getting something from the game. Angel Di Maria was perhaps harshly booked for simulation but his response to pull back referee Michael Oliver by his shirt in remonstrating the decision led to an immediate second yellow and subsequent red card. United were open to the Arsenal counter from then on, and were lucky not to lose by a bigger scoreline.
Federici’s jelly hands
A Semi Final draw with Championship strugglers Reading, the third side from that division on Arsenal’s cup run, almost seemed like a bye to the Final for The Gunners beforehand but The Royals gave them a right scare. Spurred on by hordes of blue and white at the neutral Wembley venue, Steve Clarke’s side treated the match as if it was the Final itself and the score was tied at 1-1 after 90 minutes, forcing extra time. Reading were playing very well and it looked at one point as if they would at least hold out for a penalty shoot-out but right on half-time in extra time a relatively straightforward shot from Alexis Sanchez trickled through goalkeeper Adam Federici’s hands and legs to put Arsenal 2-1 up. The error seemed to drain the underdogs, and Wenger’s team were able to ride out the remaining 15 minutes or so without much difficulty to secure their place in the Final.
Wenger starting Theo at Wembley
A serious injury sustained during last season’s FA Cup campaign meant Theo Walcott missed a large chunk of this season for Arsenal, and by the time he regained fitness it was difficult for him to return to the side as a regular fixture. Indeed, there was even rumours of a move to Liverpool with Raheem Sterling going the other way not too long ago. A hat-trick on the final day of the Premier League season, however, gave Arsene Wenger a real dilemma for his FA Cup Final team selection and in the end his choice to start Walcott ahead of Olivier Giroud against Aston Villa paid dividends. His pace was a big threat as part of Arsenal’s attacking play, and Villa’s hesitancy to play a high line against him meant that they were unable to escape from their deep lying position too often. Beyond that, of course, it was Walcott’s volley that broke the Villa resistance in the first half to set Arsenal on their way to silverware.
The Sanchez sizzler
It would have been extremely harsh not to mention Alexis Sanchez’s general contribution to Arsenal’s cup run (and general performance) this season. There was a goal on his FA Cup debut against Hull and while his winner against Reading was fortuitous, the Chilean’s other goal that day certainly wasn’t as he showed great composure to put his side ahead. They all pale into insignificance aesthetically, though, compared to his sensational strike in the Final. Villa would have had some hope of getting back into the game at 1-0 but within five minutes of the second half Sanchez put the cup within touching distance for Arsenal. A feign on the inside left saw the Gunners’ record signing with an opportunity to shoot from 30 yards on his right foot, and his swerving shot bamboozled keeper Shay Given on its way to the back of the net.