A season to remember for Hull and one of highs and lows for Arsenal comes to its conclusion at Wembley on Saturday. Here we look at some of the key protagonists ahead of the FA Cup final…
After topping the Premier League for 128 days, there was a sense of frustration and disappointment about the way Arsenal’s title challenge faded. However, five consecutive wins to finish the campaign took the Gunners to 79 points – their best tally in six years – and Everton’s push for fourth was ultimately seen off with relative ease. If a first trophy in nine years follows then Arsene Wenger can end the season a real high.
“It is an important moment of the season and we want to prepare to be ready for a top performance in the FA Cup,” says Wenger.
One point from the final five games of the Premier League season saw Hull fall to 16th in the table, but this was hardly a fair reflection of how comfortably Steve Bruce’s side stayed up on their return to the top flight. Picking up 23 points before the turn of the year provided the sort of breathing space that allowed Bruce to field increasingly strong sides in the FA Cup and it has brought the reward of two trips to Wembley as well as European football for the first time.
“This year we created history,” says owner Assem Allam. “This is the greatest team this area has ever seen on a football pitch.”
There were calls for the Frenchman’s head after a disastrous opening day defeat at home to Aston Villa and there is continued disappointment at Arsenal’s efforts in the big games. Indeed, Wenger’s side conceded at least five goals away to each of the top three, adding weight to the theory that there needs to be a fundamental change of approach from the team.
But it’s not been all bad. Cup wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton indicate that it’s a different story at the Emirates Stadium. With Manchester United failing miserably to move forward following the exit of an iconic manager and rivals Spurs continuing to fall short regardless of who is in the hot seat, Wenger’s supporters can point to the fact that it is he who has the chance to seize the only domestic trophy not gobbled up by Manchester City.
Bruce’s stock had fallen considerably after a difficult end to his spell in charge of Sunderland but the 53-year-old has forced a reassessment of his merits after doing such an impressive job at Hull. Promoted at the first time of asking, he has tweaked the team effectively in order to ensure survival with something to spare – keeping the feel-good factor at the KC Stadium despite off-the-field tensions regarding Allam’s name-change plans.
On the pitch, most of Bruce’s manoeuvrings have come off. The midfield was rebuilt in the summer with Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone making a big impact, while January saw the strike force rejigged following the signings of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long. The new arrivals netted four goals apiece to finish as the club’s joint-top scorers in the Premier League. It’s been that sort of season for Bruce.
THE KEY MEN
Ramsey’s drive from midfield was badly missed by Arsenal this season with four of the team’s six Premier League defeats coming during his absence through injury. Since his return, the Gunners have scored nine goals without conceding while he’s been on the pitch – and three of those came against Hull. In fact, he’s been involved in all five goals Arsenal have scored against the Tigers this term. One or two more at Wembley might be enough to see the 23-year-old to lift the FA Cup.
With just eight Premier League appearances in the previous four seasons, this was a career in the relative doldrums for a player Aston Villa had once paid in excess of £8million for. But Davies has been superb for Hull, winning player of the year awards from team-mates and supporters. His stats are remarkable - ranking among the top ten in the Premier League for clearances, interceptions and blocks – and only missed one game this season… the defeat at Arsenal. He’ll been needed at Wembley.
|Curtis Davies - PL 2013/14|
Underdogs usually rely on complacency on the part of the favourites if they are to cause an upset but surely that won’t be a problem for Arsenal given their long wait to celebrate a trophy. Hull are more likely to capitalise on any nerves produced by the weight of expectation from Gunners supporters. So will Wenger’s men break their nine-year duck or can Hull win the first major honours in their history? Either way it makes for an intriguing story.