What a glorious day Saturday was, for so many reasons. The weather, the entertainment, the company. Saturday 30th May 2015 had it all and will be one that I will treasure for some time now.
I wrote pre match about the guilt I felt last season during our FA Cup victory over Hull City so I made sure this time I was with my son. Seeing as I couldn't get hold of Wembley tickets without having to remortgage the house I thought the Emirates screening was the next best thing. To remember the day I thought I'd document it on video so he can watch in the future. The clip will be at the end of this article.
The atmosphere at the Emirates was far better than I would have imagined before we got there. It was better than plenty of actual home matches. Maybe that was down to the occasion, perhaps the vibes around the game were all positive, who knows. Whatever it was, it made the occasion so much more enjoyable. I don't know how viable it is but I'd be up for watching more games on the big screen at the Emirates, perhaps the big televised away matches but I don't know what damage it does to the pitch during a season. Anyway as usual, I digress.
Arsène made two big calls, calls that were ultimately the correct ones but given how fired up and super we were on the day all over the pitch, I'd imagine that had Ospina and Giroud started, I'd be saying the exact same thing.
I didn't think that a comfortable Arsenal cup final was possible and all I kept thinking during the early exchanges was that not taking one of our several chances could come back to bite us because surely Aston Villa are going to be able to get out of the constant pressure we were putting them under at some point. Delightfully, I was wrong. From the first minute to the last we did not let them play and when we had the ball they could not deal with the speed of our passing and movement.
The breakthrough was a thing of beauty wasn't it? The move was slick, Theo playing a nice little pass down the side of Monreal who stood up a cross to Alexis who had switched into the centre forward position. The guy has no right whatsoever to be winning headers against centre back's the way he did. His header bounced invitingly for Walcott to run onto, focus on his technique and smash the ball left footed past 39 year old Shay Given.
My son was too shy to celebrate and looked a little shocked to see grown men hugging and high-fiving complete strangers. Walcott as centre forward gives us flexibility and more rotation but I wonder if the Alexis switch was because Arsène felt like he wanted something else at that point. That is not a slight on Walcott who had made many good runs, worked hard and was only denied an earlier goal from a great block by Kieran Richardson earlier in the half.
Going into half time having missed a host of chances but still being able to find the breakthrough before half time was a good feeling. Villa offered very little apart from a few crosses to Benteke that Szczesny dealt with time and time again. The players and manager had said a few times prior to the final that we had been preparing for the game and quite clearly that Szczesny coming for crosses was on the check list, just as it had been at Upton Park earlier in the season.
The Alexis rocket only 5 minutes after half time killed the game even at only 2-0 because we were so dominant. How he was able to put so much top spin on a shot hit so hard is incredible. Violently swerving all over the place before flashing past a flapping Given, what a strike. What a goal.
So many Gooners were fearful of Benteke in the air before the game so it was somewhat ironic to see the striker completely lose Mertesacker in the air to allow the German to head in our third unmarked.
As the time ticked down and the already happy atmosphere went into celebration mode, a group of Arsenal fans rushed onto the pitch to celebrate the soon to be back to back FA Cup victory on the Emirates turf.
"We're not allowed on the pitch are we dad?" my son asked, clearly seeking my approval. I looked at the stewards who were smiling and standing aside to allow the now queue of fans from the stands onto the pitch so I carried him on my back and we joined in the celebrations.
I've been lucky enough to play some matches on the Emirates pitch so it wasn't a first time for me but Mean Lean junior was delighted.
I had missed Giroud's goal as I was too busy singing a wide range of Arsenal songs, avoiding the words that I wouldn't want my 8 year old son to hear me say. On the replay I saw that Giroud scored his now trademark near post flick past the keeper. It is great that both of our strikers scored goals in this final. I suspect that both would have scored if Giroud had started and Walcott was the one to make a late cameo.
Jack Wilshere who was also a late sub looked bright, driving at the Villa defence as he does. I haven't mentioned Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin who were probably our three best players on the pitch. All of them were exceptional. In fact the entire team and subs were all fantastic, everyone raised their game and that is great to see.
We walked around the pitch and soaked in all the singing and rolling around the turf from mostly alcohol fueled Arsenal fans I'd imagine, and why not? It was the second season in a row where we had picked up silverware.
Our start to the season was a disappointment, we had attempted to blend in new players, play a new system and change our approach on the back of a world cup. Don't forget having the worst injury record alongside Manchester United at the time meant that we suffered in the early months. I thought Tim from 7am Kick Off explained this rather well in his article the other day.
It was no coincidence that our returning players and a squad that had adapted to changes had turned the form around to become the form team in the league. Unless I've missed something, that is all pretty clear cut to me.
So the manager, the players and the staff deserve praise for a challenging season in so many ways and to come out the other end with an improved league place and domestic trophy in the bank, especially in the manner that we did was fantastic for all involved.
The celebrations continued outside the Emirates stadium but we had to get home to get him into bed. I had to miss the FA Cup parade the next day as my son was having a football party with his friends on a 5aside pitch in Wembley of all places. It's been a great weekend for him and certainly one that I won't be forgetting in a hurry.
You can check out the mega Q&A with a host of happy Gooners. The podcast should be up in the next few days as we've had to allow for hangovers and sore throats to heal.
Thanks for reading and listening to the podcast this season, more now and again during the pre season.