Arsenal took home a record 13th FA Cup trophy on Saturday, defeating English Premier League winners Chelsea by 2-1. However, after finishing outside the top-4 for the first time in just over two decades, the cup win is nothing but a small band-aid on an open wound.
The Gunners were heavy underdogs heading into the fixture at Wembley Stadium. With several players on the injury list, and Laurent Koscielny suspended, Arsenal were forced to start Per Mertesacker. The German central defender had missed most of the season due to injury, but he came in and had a very good game together with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal at the back. David Ospina has been the choice in goal in the cups, and Arsene Wenger let the Colombian keep his place, despite having Petr Cech available.
The Gunners edged out Chelsea after goals by Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey. Sanchez gave Arsenal the lead in the fourth minute with a somewhat controversial goal, and after Diego Costa tied things up for Chelsea in the 76th minute, Ramsey scored the winner in the 79th minute. Wenger got the tactics spot on in this one, and the Frenchman looked extremely pleased as he got to lift another FA Cup trophy.
Arsenal have won the competition three times in the past four years, and the Gunners hold the record for most FA Cup championships with 13. It’s always a happy moment for a club to win a trophy, but the fact that they missed the Champions League by finishing fifth in the Premier League makes the season a failure. There still hasn’t been any announcement if Wenger will stay with the club or if he leave — his contract expires this summer — but reports are that the club will make a decision in the coming weeks.
Wenger has been under a lot of criticism during the season, and after 21 years at the club, many vocal Arsenal supporters believe it is time for a change. The team haven’t won a league title since the 2003-2004 season, and over time the “Wenger Out” movement has grown bigger and bigger. Banners with those words have been seen not only at Arsenal games, but at tennis tournaments and other soccer games all over the world, as disgruntled Gunners fans voice their displeasure with the Frenchman. To Wenger’s defense, he has been spending a lot less in the transfer market compared to the other top teams in the league, and he takes pride in running the club in a smart, economical way.
He has loosened the purse strings in the past few years, bringing in Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi, but in order for Arsenal to become a title contender once more, they will need to pay big money to bring in quality players that can lift the team to the next level. The club isn’t in a complete freefall, but missing the Champions League for the first time under Wenger is a big deal, even though they were only one point behind fourth-place Liverpool. Not being in the Champions League could potentially have an effect on player recruitment this summer — players might join a club that is in the tournament instead of Arsenal.
With an internal power struggle between majority owner Stan Kroenke and minority owner Alisher Usmanov, it will be interesting to follow the club over the summer, no matter what happens to Wenger.