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A fairytale triumph for underdog Gunners

How Arsenal turned back the clock with a dramatic FA Cup Final victory that evoked memories of how the big day at Wembley used to be

01 June, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Arsenal fans at Wembley as the team celebrate on the pitch

HE often has the last laugh. And so it proved again on Saturday when Arsene Wenger left Wembley with another FA Cup tucked under his arm, ready to answer any difficult question with: “Let me just enjoy this one tonight.”

And so we did, leaving a trail of red and white flags across north London as the sun set on another season with Arsenal somehow stealing the show.

Wenger was asked endlessly about his future in the post-match press conference by journalists who seemed to have nothing to ask about the enthralling match and the football heroism we had all just witnessed.

You wouldn’t have blamed the guy if he had rocked into the press room in shades and a leather jacket, kissed the silverware before flicking the vees at these one-pace reporters and riding off into the night on a Harley-Davidson while hollering a “smell ya later” back at them. I guess that’s not really his style.

After the right mess that these last nine months have been for Arsenal, this was a glorious summer’s eve night – one of those good versus bad moments in sport where only the club’s fiercest rivals could not see the fairytale.

Mesut Ozil’s smile says it all via his Twitter page

This, after all, was the defeat of the divers – and of Diego Costa, that snarling, bully of a forward who has made enemies of us all, whatever your team.

It was a win for the underdog, a win for the likes of the big friendly giant, Per Mertesacker, who injects a seam of nice guy likeability into a sport savaged by money.

This is how FA Cups used to be in the chopper bike, swizzlestick days of your youth where in one-off matches, the team written off before a ball was even kicked rose up to defeat the cocksure club who had thought they only needed to turn up to claim their prize.

Wenger has been the underdog in this showpiece occasion before, but never like this. Even those who think he should retire couldn’t help but marvel at how he responded.

Rewarding him with a two year contract may not really prove to be the sensible thing to do once the misty haze of the weekend has passed, but it also seems silly to moan when he has won three trophies in four years.

You may not believe me, but standing there watching your team win the FA Cup – particularly against Chelsea – is more fun than a run in the Champions League, a maze with too many dead ends.

What was so curious about the Gunners’ 2-1 victory on Saturday is how Wenger’s key failing over the season was suddenly cured, that being his difficulty in drawing the best out of a group of players with such obvious potential and talent.

The New Journal’s Richard Osley reflects on the surprise win

Under his watch, footballers like Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey have not fulfilled the futures that were laid out for them, prodigious talent which should by now have formed a unit ready to take the title.

Amid that mix, we’ve seen Mesut Ozil sometimes look disinterested, while signings such as Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny have failed to capture the imagination.

And yet on Saturday evening – as in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City – suddenly everybody found their A-game, playing for each other and with a confidence to match their pay packets.

Chelsea players tried to style it out with the line that they would rather win the Premier League than the FA Cup. No doubt.

A few graceless Chelsea fans waited at Wembley Park station in a futile bid to pop the feelgood vibe with bleary songs about how they were the real champions too.

But being outclassed at Wembley in the final match of the season, the last game which takes us over into the summer break, must still be a stinger. Even more so because they had failed against such a patched-up Arsenal defence, and been so desperate to turn to diving.

Arsenal’s achievement is even greater for over the course of these three recent FA Cup successes the club has defeated Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, the whole collection. It started with Theo Walcott raising two fingers to show Spurs fans the score while sat on a stretcher.

It’s a record that shows Arsenal can compete over the short term against the very best.

Wenger’s final trick has to now be finding a way to compete over the longer course, and, maybe, without Sanchez or Ozil. Let’s not worry about that right now, though, just enjoy another red summer.

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