It shows just how far Arsenal have come this season when the prospect of an FA Cup seems like an underwhelming climax to another footballing year.
Had you proposed this hypothetical trophy to a group of Arsenal fans leaving the Emirates Stadium after their opening day defeat to Aston Villa, even the most optimistic member of the bunch would have bitten your hand off. However, the Gunners have indeed had quite the season.
Come mid-March, the league appears a little out of Arsenal’s reach, and despite a battling performance against Bayern Munich over two legs, the dream of Europe is over for another year. The FA Cup is realistically Arsenal’s final chance at a trophy, and they are in pole position to win it. But after such a promising start to the season, will Arsenal feel that it could have been a lot, lot better?
There’s a togetherness in Arsene Wenger’s squad that hasn’t existed in the club for a long time. There are experienced leaders in the form of players like Mikel Arteta, Thomas Rosicky and the commanding Per Mertesacker, as well as youthful hunger in the form of the Chamberlains, Wilsheres and Ramseys in the squad. There’s a strength in depth present that the Gunners have often lacked. The plethora of midfield talent is arguably the strongest crop to pick from in the division. Along with the rock-solid defence, marshalled by the watertight axis of Laurent Koscielny and the aforementioned Mertesacker, the thought of ‘shipping goals’ in classically calamitous fashion is all but forgotten. With the trophy signing of Mesut Ozil in September epitomising a new level of positivity surrounding the club, Arsenal looked like serious challengers for the first time in a while. Due to the outstanding talent and play on show this season, many will see a triumph in the FA Cup as an inferior achievement, when compared to what could have been.
However, there’s also a feeling that this could be the just what the club needs. It cannot be forgotten that Arsenal are in the ninth year of a trophy drought, and the abolition of their failure to achieve silverware would cap the end of what has been a testing transitional period for fans. Although he won’t have given up on the league, Mr Wenger does admire the FA Cup; after all: ‘who has won it more times?.’ As it was the last trophy Arsenal won, it would provide a certain poignancy if they were to win it again in 2014.
With the club boasting impressive financial figures in the form of a huge £120.6m surplus, and a five-year kit contract with Puma beginning next year, Arsenal can again compete in the transfer window, and winning the FA Cup could be the catalyst for an ocean of success.
Wigan stand in their way, managed by the enigmatic Uwe Rosler. Despite their unimpressive seventh place in the Championship this season, Wigan managed to dispatch of Manchester City with ease last week, and Arsenal will be wary of the brilliant manner that they did it in. But it’s a universal consensus that Arsenal should, and probably will, defeat them. If they are to reach the final, they’ll face either Hull City or Sheffield United, illustrating Arsenal’s nature as overwhelming favourites. But of course football is never that simple, especially in the cup. The potential final would also carry an eerie reminiscence for fans to their 2011 League Cup showdown against Birmingham.
But, if Arsenal stay true to their favourites tag, and manage to lift the FA Cup in May, it could be the turning point that Wenger has been longing for. With the empty trophy cabinet taboo removed, and the prospect of an exciting transfer window in the summer, next season could see Arsenal at a level where Premier League or European glory may not be an unrealistic target.