May 17 will go down as a bitter sweet day for Arsenal fans and in our folklore.
On May 17, 2006 we had booked a date in Paris for the Champions league final against Barcelona. We had knocked out the great Old Lady, Juventus, put up a superb performance defeating the Galaticos of Real Madrid and sent Riquelme led Villarreal in the semi’s.
The lines were certainly aligned, final was in Paris, Arsenal French contingent were sure to win the Champions League at home. “Arsene Wenger was going to do it in his country”, most Arsenal faithful echoed. We had gone all through the qualifiers not conceding a goal (even though we had to do with a makeshift defence line) to make the final.
Sol Campbell goal made us believe it was going to happen until the red card to Lehman changed everything. Barcelona against all odds scored two late goals and went on to win the Champions League. Arsenal were minutes away from its greatest European night but it was not to be.
Fast forward eight years later to May 17, 2014. Arsenal had gone 9 years without a trophy. It was Hull City we had to beat to end the long drought. Without disrespect to Hull City managed by Steve Bruce, we had a better chance to win the FA Cup (a record 11th time for that matter).
I made my way to the Emirates stadium on May 16, 2014 (a day before the final) and entered the armoury. I needed to exercise my faith. I picked up an old retro Arsenal shirt and paid for the shirt with a unique name at the back – THE DROUGHT IS OVER. I was convinced that we were going to end Arsenal trophy drought. I got into a chat with the attendant who admired my faith and said he hopes we get the job done. I was optimistic that we will win but memories of how we lost the Carling Cup to Birmingham City in 2011 came to mind. Definitely we were not going to allow a repeat.
I woke up in the morning of May 17 2014, said my prayers (also prayed specially for the gaffer and the lads) to be fit, sound and deliver on the day. Had breakfast and watched a couple of football shows that the FA Cup was being discussed. We were the favourites, but deep down me I knew anything could happen in a cup final.
I left my apartment and took a train to Wembley Station. The fans were trickling in. The Hull City fans coming all the way from East Riding of Yorkshire were the early arrivals.
I took a walk round Wembley and decided to take some pictures of fans around the stadium. An hour to the game, the atmosphere was charged. I made way to my seat and was happy seeing the Arsenal lads warm up and I was happy with the strong starting eleven Wenger had picked.
Arsenal got up to the most horrible start. Chester got the first goal for Hull City and Curries Davies got the 2nd goal under 10 minutes. I was mortified and speechless. I checked my phone and the number of messages (mostly banter from friends throwing jabs at Arsenal) that we have bottled the final again. Alex Bruce’s (son of Steve Bruce who was the Hull City Manager) looping header was destined for the net until Kieran Gibbs goal line clearance saved the day. All this happened under 15 minutes.
I took a deep breath and said a prayer that we could still turn this around. Santi Cazorla was fouled at the edge of the box and Arsenal awarded a free-kick. Poldoski and Santi were over the ball, I was squeezing my hands and speaking under my breath that we needed to make it count. Santi came up with a fanstastic free-kick that beat Allen McGregor for dead. It was the turning point.
Arsenal were back, I screamed not minding that we were trailing 1-2. Lauren Koscielny did level scores 2-2 with 20 minutes to go. The big screen at Wembley showed the ecstatic Arsenal fans and a few seconds after a bewildered and fear filled Hull City fans. It was obvious Arsenal was on the ascendancy.
Kieran Gibbs could have won the game in full time but his chance went agonising inches wide. Wenger brought in Tomas “Little Mozart” Rosicky and the talented Jack Wilshere. Both players changed the tempo of the game. Arsenal was looking for the winner in extra time. Giroud goal bound header hit the cross bar, Ozil missed a chance in the box, time was ticking away. We certainly were not going to allow this go into penalties I murmured to myself.
Cometh the hour cometh the man. Arsenal with some intricate passing (that the club has famously come to be known for) had the ball in midfield with Arteta (Arsenal current manager) who found Wilshere passing to Yaya Sanogo in the box. The big French lad made another good pass to his fellow French compatriot Olivier Giroud, who came up with an exquisite back pass to Aaron Ramsey and the Welsh man buried it in the net.
Arsenal fans went gaga! Ramsey went with the Charlie George celebration sliding on the pitch and lying down, his teammates followed with joy. I raised my hands to the sky with thanks. I knew the job was done. We had ended the trophy drought after nine years.
Upon final whistle, I looked down from the stand at Arsene Wenger, he had suffered a lot but I could see the relief, the joy as he waved to the fans – after all that has always been his goal to bring joy to the fans playing the Arsenal way.
It was an epic final, a historic day and against all odds THE TROPHY DROUGHT WAS OVER.
Bimboh Adekoya is an ardent Arsenal fan of over 30 years. He is on Twitter @Bimboh5