In my previous post, I referred to Arsenal’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan Athletic as a must win game in order to save our season. Since the turn of the year, we have been gradually getting worse in the league and were, after the defeat at Everton, out of the top 4. It was (still is) possible that we could finish trophyless for the ninth year running and miss out on Champions League qualification. Of course, I was gutted by our embarrassing loss at Goodison Park but still felt confident we could finish the campaign on a high. The sheer importance of beating a Championship side a Wembley could not be overstated.
So when Gomez stepped up to put Wigan 1-0 up after 63 minutes, I was understandably distraught. For the next 18 minutes, I sat motionless looking at the Wembley pitch (just like I did after our Carling Cup Final defeat back in 2011). My head was full of hateful thoughts towards these established international players such as Sagna, Cazorla and Vermaelen who had bottled yet another big match. Us fans can sort of forgive being thumped in the league but to lose a game of this magnitude where the future of the club hangs in the balance is criminal.
Not only did the team lack courage but also I was sure the footballing God’s were against us. With 10 minutes of normal time left, a Gibbs header was saved but looked to still be going in. That was until a Wigan defender somehow cleared the ball off the line. I sank back in my chair, head in hands and resigned to the fact that the silverware cabinet at the Emirates would remain bare once again. However, Arsenal Football Club has this amazing knack of salvaging hope from the rubble. They push fans to the edge of disappointment before re-kindling their love for the team in an instant.
I felt this sudden change in emotion at Wembley 9 days ago when Mertesacker scored the equaliser in the 81st minute. I nearly fell out of my wheelchair in all the excitement and celebration. I was relieved that there was still life in the old dog but more importantly; I started to BELIEVE (as my t-shirt says) again that the cup dream was still on. The match was still only 1-1 so we weren’t through to the final by any means and would have to play 30 minutes extra time. The crossbar denied Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 110th minute, which summed up our day of misfortune in front of goal.
That’s why when the lottery they call penalties began, I was sure we would miss a couple. However, it was Wigan who had two spot-kicks saved by Fabianski. Arteta, Giroud, Kallstrom and Cazorla all remained calm to put Arsenal into their first FA Cup final since they last won a trophy in 2005. As you can imagine, I was so happy when the winning penalty hit the net. Not only did it potentially mean our silverware drought would come to an end in May but being in the final on the 17th May would extend our season by an extra week (which delays the boring wait for August).
Plus, I felt that the positive result would inject much needed confidence back into a bruised team and we would finish the season well. Two wins in the league following our penalty triumph suggests that this is the case but time will tell whether our season will end in the agony of winning nothing for the ninth year in a row or pure ecstasy with Champions League qualification and the FA Cup.
By Glen Shorey