By Martyn Herman
Arsenal will need no reminder of the pitfalls in store for them at Wembley Stadium on Saturday (7pm) where they will be favourites to beat Hull City in the FA Cup final and claim their first silverware for nine years.
Three years ago Arsene Wenger’s side were also expected to beat Birmingham City in the League Cup final but a late goal by Obafemi Martins after a calamitous defensive mix-up ruined the script and prolonged the fans’ suffering.
Since then manager Arsene Wenger’s long reign at the club has occasionally been questioned by even some of his most loyal disciples, with some advocating a change of direction.
Arsenal’s annual qualification for the Champions League, now standing at 17 seasons, continues to justify the club hierarchy’s faith in the wily Frenchman, although every year that passes without a trophy appears to add another wrinkle to Wenger’s face.
Wenger has been at pains to play down the significance of Saturday’s result, saying it will have no bearing on his ongoing contract discussion, but the 64-year-old is fooling no one as Arsenal bid for a record-equalling 11th FA Cup.
Defeat by a Hull side appearing in their first FA Cup final would re-open the debate about his future.
Victory, following a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League having challenged strongly for the title for two thirds of the season, would reinforce the belief that Wenger is still the man to mastermind a golden new era for the Gunners.
“Our target is to win the trophies but you judge the quality of the teams and their potential over the Premier League results,” Wenger, who won the Cup with Arsenal in 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005, told a news conference.
“On top of that you want to do well in the cups. The basis is first to do well with the stability of results in the championship, and on top of that get the cups.
“This is an opportunity for us to crown our season and the overall achievement if you look back on the season will look better if we win it. It’s all to do, all is in front of us so we just want to focus on Saturday’s game.”
Having finished the Premier League season with five consecutive victories and Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey back from injury, Arsenal will be buoyant as they prepare to face Steve Bruce’s Hull, but not complacent.
“To be favourites doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Wenger, whose side have beaten Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton en route to the final, said.
“It just means if you turn up on the day of the game with a good performance you have more chance of winning.
“I don’t believe we need any warning. We know that a final is a final, that Hull are a Premier League team, they can pass the ball, they can create chances. It’s just down to us to perform well on the day of the game.”
While Arsenal are preparing for their 18th FA Cup final, Hull’s previous best performance in the competition was a semi-final appearance in 1930 when they lost to Arsenal in a replay.
The Gunners went on to win their maiden FA Cup with a 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town in the final.
In their 110-year history Hull have never won anything other than the Division Three title in 1966.
Manager Bruce said that while Arsenal are favourites, his side will take heart from Wigan Athletic’s surprise victory over Manchester City in last year’s final and also the fact that neutrals settling down to watch the match on TV will be rooting for his underdogs.
“If you’re not an Arsenal fan, I’m sure the rest of the world will be rooting for Hull,” Bruce, who won two FA Cup medals as a Manchester United player, said this week.
“We all saw what Wigan did last year. For me, it brings back a bit of the glamour. That’s what the FA Cup is about. The mighty Arsenal facing the small club of Hull.
“That was my approach this year. I thought we’re never going to win the league but we’ve got a chance to win the FA Cup.”
Hull’s form tailed off at the end of the season, although they were never in real danger of relegation, but Bruce said the thought of a showpiece final has been a perfect tonic.
“For the first time in a month, I can see a spring in their step,” he said. “They’re enjoying training like they should be. For four weeks, all they’ve thought about is the FA Cup final.”
Hull will need no big motivational speeches beforehand either, according to midfielder David Meyler.
“They haven’t won a trophy in nine years and they’ve got their posters up in London about their parade next week,” he said. “I’d rather be the underdog. People are delighted when the underdog wins – I don’t think many people want Arsenal to win.”