Perhaps then, in a cosmos without the shadow of Jose Mourinho, without the conservatism of the Portuguese that was so prevalent in the Swedish capital last Wednesday, without the shackles of an acrimonious league campaign, this was the ideal, vintage match from Arsenal: they showed ‘desire,’ but above all an unwavering and ambivalent aggression that made the 136th FA Cup final a classic match, a catalogue of free-flowing, madcap football.
At the full-time whistle, Arsene Wenger smiled a little. His team defeated the newly-crowned English champions with bravura and much daring. Wenger won a record seventh FA Cup as a coach, Arsenal a record thirteenth FA Cup as a club. It was a contradictory game from the Gunners: was this the real Arsenal who had forsaken their tendency for slapstick defeats and improbable collapses and replaced it with a ferocity, aggression and industry that had hitherto been unseen in Islington?
Arsenal weren’t in command throughout, but they bossed the midfield in a cunning ploy from Wenger to drop Granit Xhaka, the granite Swiss, whose roughness is abrasive, deep and allow Aaron Ramsey to play higher up the field. That left Chelsea’s dynamic midfield duo Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante outnumbered.
At the back, the German tower Per Mertesacker, who replaced the suspended Laurent Koscielny, excelled, defiant with his creaking knees, containing Arsenal’s nemesis Diego Costa, who had bruised and bullied Arsenal in the past. After the Spaniard did score, Ramsey replied with a thumping header that would prove to be the winner.
But it was Arsenal’s collective form that impressed — a complete performance. And so amid all the hullabaloo and euphoria, with lengthy celebrations in the North London sun, conversation dallied on the one question: will Wenger stay at Arsenal this summer? The #WengerOut brigade was not in a position to denounce the Frenchman after a vintage Arsenal win, but, at the same time, the high of winning a record FA Cup would be an ideal moment for Wenger to leave Arsenal.
It’s a situation fraught with complications and emotions. Yet again Arsenal and Wenger demonstrated the potency of Arsenal as a football club with a display of superlative football — the embodiment of a football dream and indeed of what the beautiful game in a refined form should and can be. But that is also the long-lasting paradox of Arsenal and Wenger: the promise of utopia, but without ever arriving in the land of perfection or attaining that state of nirvana.
The FA Cup victory mitigated a season of profound pain and existential angst at Arsenal, a carbon copy of previous seasons, but with the marked difference of Arsenal dropping out of the top four. The preponderant narrative around Wenger the last few seasons has been one of failure.
The Arsenal manager has been assailed, vilified and crucified by a legion of detractors for being a perpetual choker, an inveterate dweeb, and a ne’er-do-well. Critics lambast Wenger for his failing grand plan, for blindness in the face of countervailing evidence, for impenetrable stubbornness and the false promise of a renaissance. Ultimately, they impute that Arsenal and Wenger only continue to falter, a cardinal sin in the zero-sum game of the Premier League.
But at Arsenal, the Wengerocracy still stands. Wenger’s future remains vague, and not even Enigma could decipher the future of the Frenchman, with all the mystery surrounding the management job. He remained tight-lipped at the post-match press conference. Did the board back him? Wenger dogged the question. Wenger’s quest at Arsenal is one of the great dramas of our time, and every day, the intrigue increases.
At least on the field against Chelsea, Wenger showed that ‘Arsene still knows.’ Arsenal won the FA Cup’s best final in years and perhaps the club and Wenger’s future may just be a little rosier for it.
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Updated Date: May 28, 2017 16:20:54 IST