LONDON: During Arsene Wenger’s most successful period as manager of Arsenal, the FA Cup final became a regular date in the club’s diary.
From 1998 onwards they played in English football’s showpiece five times in eight seasons, winning four of those games.
Yet since the last success, a lucky one on penalties after being outplayed by Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2005, Wenger’s magic touch has deserted him not only in the Cup but every other competition too.
Arsenal therefore go into today’s final against Hull City at Wembley without having won anything in the ensuing nine years, leaving the urbane Frenchman under the sort of pressure he has not experienced before in 30 years in management.
After the London club finished their Premier League programme in fourth place, ensuring a shot at the Champions League for a 17th successive season, Wenger, 64, insisted he would remain at the club next season.
He has not signed a new contract, however, and defeat by lowly Hull, 16th in the league and contesting their first major final, would lead to a backlash by supporters, many of whom already believe that going almost a decade without winning anything is unacceptable for one of England’s great clubs.
“All the pressure is on Arsenal,” the club’s former midfielder Ray Parlour, who also played for Hull, told Reuters yesterday.
“I know the supporters sometimes get frustrated with no trophy.” The other source of frustration among the 60,000 fans who attend every home game is Wenger’s perceived reluctance to spend the sort of money on new players that has allowed clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea and - until this season - Manchester United to win the trophies they have missed out on.
For some years he put that down to having to finance the expensive move from Highbury, with its limited capacity, to the Emirates Stadium.
That switch was completed eight years ago and Arsenal have not won anything at their new home. The club board, which the American businessman Stan Kroenke joined in 2008, has always said funds were available to Wenger, whose more recent argument has been that other clubs have flouted Financial Fair Play rules and will now have to conform to them. The decision to spend 42m pounds ($70.5m) on Real Madrid’s German midfielder Mesut Ozil at the start of the season appeared to indicate a new philosophy but after a dazzling start, Ozil’s form fell away in tandem with Arsenal’s.
Top of the table from mid-September in an almost unbroken sequence lasting until February, they dropped out of the running for the title with a series of humiliating defeats to other contenders, 6-3 at Manchester City, 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-0 at Chelsea.
Giroud’s 16 league goals made him the only Arsenal player to reach double figures apart from midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who scored his 10th in the final match at Norwich last weekend. Ramsey, who missed four months of the season, England’s Jack Wilshere and Ozil all suffered injuries that hampered Wenger’s plans in the second half of the season but with all three now back it is imperative that Arsenal leave Wembley today with their hands on a trophy. If not, the taunt of Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho that Wenger is “a specialist in failure” will gain greater credence.REUTERS