Arsenal are the 2014-15 FA Cup Winners. I don't get tired of saying that. After the intensity of the season and everything it brought with it, including watching Mourinho and that pack of rabid dogs called Chelsea lift the Premier League trophy while their plastic rent boy fans gripe, I am so proud to be a Gooner as we played real football en route to winning a record 12 FA Cups including 6 captured by Wenger.
Leading up to the match the team selection was the main topic of conversation. I was convinced that Wenger would start the team that has led him far with the exception of Szczesny in goalie. My prediction was half right. Ramsey returned and Szczesny did start in goal but Wenger opted to start Walcott as the lone striker in place of the struggling Giroud. Despite Walcott's great match against West Brom, I thought Wenger's predictability would precede him. I was wrong and to be honest I was annoyed at Walcott starting. I thought his performance was a one-off against West Brom and that Wenger was trusting too much in a player that has not played much this season in a big game. Needless to say I wanted Walcott to prove me wrong and prove me wrong he did.
It took a while into the first half for us to score but it felt like the goal was inevitable Aston Villa were toothless and our defensive line was solid. They effortlessly brushed aside any attacking play that Villa could muster, leaving Szczesny with little to do. Our attack was pressuring the Villa goal but poor shooting and last ditch defending saw attack after attack go wanting. With a few minutes to go a cross in the box was headed out wide to the left by Alexis. The ball was allowed to bounce into the path of the running Walcott whose one-time, left-footed finish threaded the needle and found the back of the net. It was a beauty of a goal and one that showed that Wenger made the right decision to include him in the squad. It also proved that I was wrong. Walcott turned at the perfect moment because it was looking like we were unable to break down the Villa defense. The tension was growing at the pub and I could sense that going to halftime even was not going over well. The goal revitalized the crowd both locally and at Wembley. Walcott's celebration and emotion was shared by all and the optimism came back to the crowd. We went in at halftime leading by one goal but it should have been three or four at least.
The second half started brightly with Arsenal picking up where we left off. The free flowing offense started creating more chances and it was getting to the point where a second was coming and we could feel it. Then came one of the greatest goals in FA Cup history. Alexis, a player who at Barcelona, was known for taking a cracking shot from distance and often on target, sent a shot from thirty yards out that kissed the underside of the crossbar and into the net. The Villa keeper could do nothing but swat at air. The shaking head and slight smile from the keeper said it all: he had no chance at all. I have watched that goal probably one hundred times now and every time it amazes me. I always feel like we spend too much time and waste opportunities while waiting for the perfect pass when sometimes all it takes is a bit of space and some luck. There was no luck to Alexis' shot. That was the skill and confidence of a player that is a winner and one that wanted us to win that trophy. It is no doubt that Alexis is the flashy star of this team and for good reason. We would not be where we are without him. We have gained a player that can win us a game or earn a point in a tough draw. Like Walcott's goal, Alexis' wonder strike came at a time where we were all wondering if this game was going to be a nervy contest. That incredible goal put the game to bed. Villa were shell shocked and the next two goals were a result of that.
Mertesacker and Giroud earned their goals as a result of poor marking and half-assed defending by Villa. Mertesacker was nearly unmarked on a corner and his tall frame connected with the ball sending it bouncing into the corner. A fellow Gooner whom I was sitting with predicted a defender to score and sure enough one did. I was glad it was Per. His celebrations are simply the best. He just runs and falls down in a state of pure shock and joy. It is was a goal and celebration very befitting of a player that truly understands what it means to be a Gunner. As a side note, Koscielny's kit was pulled up over his head, hockey fight style and his eyes peering through the neck hole was hilarious as he was looking for a penalty not realizing that his partner just scored.
Our final goal was scored by Giroud and it was great to see him get back on the score sheet. His goal was so very Giroud too. A nonchalant side foot just redirecting the pass from Ox into the short side of the net. We have seen so many of those flicks and redirections from him this season that we shouldn't be surprised anymore. He has come a long way in a few short years. He caught a lot of flak for not being a proficient enough scorer but he has proven that he can get a good goal with the best of them. He may not being the 30 goal a season scorer that everyone looks for, but he can score and score well.
The final whistle came shortly after Giroud's goal and the crowd and our pub erupted into celebrations and singing. Hugs and high gives abound as we all watched our club lift the famous old trophy. It was a stellar performance on the day and one that we can all be proud of. Arsenal comfortably won at Wembley after struggling last season against Wigan and Hull and this season against Reading. We strolled onto the pitch with the conviction of a team that knew they were better and proved it. Man for man we were better and every player on that pitch for the Gunners showed it. Ozil was making defender splitting passes and his movement was so subtle but effective. Our surprises of the season, Bellerin and Coquelin did their duties so well and played well above their age. I can't imagine the confidence they must have going into next year having taking their chance so well. It is the kind of game where you wish every player could have come on because they all pretty much had a hand in getting us here.
My man of the match was probably Coquelin or Alexis, not just for the game itself but for what their performances have meant for us this season. Alexis was unstoppable early this season and that was when he was still learning a new system with a new team. With a full season under his belt he will be key for us to have further success next year. Coquelin's solid impressive play has been exactly what this squad has been missing and it is no surprise that the moment he came in to the squad we went on our undefeated run. A defensive midfielder was so important for us and we have been missing that type of player. We still need another but that is a topic for another day.
Silly Season starts soon so I will be keeping tabs on that but for now lets all continue to celebrate a season of progress and another trophy.
Oh to be a Gooner!