Boy, did we need that.
On the back of what has been a largely forgettable season for the club, reaching the FA Cup Final has to be one of those moments that in hindsight, we’ll forever hold in desperate glory. You wouldn’t need an overpaid pundit to tell you 2016/17 has not gone according to plan for the manager, the players or for the club. But there’s just something about a win at Wembley that can make you relegate all those concerns to the back burner.
Arsenal have done it. Amidst a terrible run of form, players under the spotlight for the wrong reasons, an incompetent manager laid bare like sheep for slaughter by a spineless, cowardly board, and a surprise adoption of a three-man defence since 1997 with a 21-year-old at the heart of it, Arsenal have conspired to outwit a full-strength Pep Guardiola managed Manchester City side.
For all his faults on a psychological and tactical level, there was much Arsène Wenger got right yesterday. Benching Hector Bellerin, bringing Danny Welbeck on at the right time, playing Rob Holding and switching to a 3-5-2 against a Guardiola side are all part and parcel of some tactical revolutions we saw that Arsène has gotten far less credit for than he should.
Granted, in the long-term and on the very top level, there’s a strong argument to be made that Wenger won’t cut the mustard, an argument I’d side with. But like it or not, it definitely worked yesterday, and it’s brought Arsenal one game closer to much-needed silverware.
In many ways, it feels better than when Per Mertesacker and Lukasz Fabianski helped Arsenal get past Wigan Athletic in the 2014 FA Cup semi-final. That was sheer relief, coupled with an underbelly of disappointment of Arsene Wenger escaping judgement yet again.
Yesterday was different. Yesterday was elation laced with the knowledge that Wenger is not the manager we want him to be anymore, the knowledge that he cannot promise us what we want. And yet, when the final whistle rang, there was something about his celebrations yesterday that reminded me how much he cares.
I know I don’t speak for all – there are people who believe his affiliation to the club must end in the most grotesque and acrimonious of ways, as is their right – but really, after the places Arsene has helped take this football club, I am of the mind that he must deserve something resembling a fitting farewell.
For the truth is, I cannot be emotionally disinvested enough to not feeling joy when my football club reaches the final of the most prestigious cup competition in the world. The possibility of Arsene Wenger’s final game for Arsenal to be against Chelsea, a club I shamelessly hate more than Tottenham, excites me. It’s the best, more realistic surrogate of a showdown I could hope for an Arsene Wenger managed side.
At this point, I find myself compelled to clarify something I wouldn’t usually want to, for I am loathe to bring a smidgen of a stain to such a happy occasion for Arsenal Football Club. But in times when every Arsenal fan questions the other’s allegiance, I feel this to be a clarification borne out of necessity than of will.
Of course I want Arsene Wenger out. Of course I want change on a management level. Of course I am aware that Arsenal’s FA Cup run is barely papering over cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. But should every day be a discourse on the bigger picture? For today, I’m happy for Arsène. I’m happy for the players. I’m happy for the fans. I’m happy for the club. I’m happy that my childhood love for Arsenal supercedes my present detest of the political machinations happening at management level.
And when it boils right down to it, isn’t that what an escapist sport like football should be all about?
-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]