Realising he’d miss the cup final, all hope I had of us denying Abramovich’s upstarts the double and ending the season on a high evaporated in that instant. Any remaining vestiges of optimism departed upon the stretcher that subsequently bore Gabriel from the fray.
Our rearguard was further decimated seemingly daily. And as I fiddled with my radio for team news, while negotiating an illusory Wembley security cordon, I half expected to hear that Alexis and Ozil had collided in the warm-up.
Whether Ospina’s cup appearances are written into our Columbian keeper’s contract, or his selection was merely testament to Arsene’s obdurate loyalty, frankly it seemed to me that it didn’t matter who’d be between the sticks, if our defence proved too porous to provide sufficient protection.
After witnessing Mertesacker’s brief cameo against Everton, I was dreading the prospect of our BFG enduring a humiliating last Arsenal curtain call. However, I’m delighted to eat humble pie, after Per seemed to muster his entire career’s worth of experience and put it all into Saturday’s majestic performance.
To prevent the likes of Costa and Hazard exposing his oil tanker pace, the BFG tried to maintain a 20-yard buffer zone. This often left him dropping so deep that I’m surprised Conte didn’t pick up on the opportunity to target the space in front provided by our old warhorse’s reluctantance to push up.
Yet ever since their 3-0 defeat at our place back in September, Conte and his charges had invested so much focus and concentration into mounting a consistent title charge that it perhaps wasn’t surprising they went somewhat off the boil after securing their principle target.
For the first half hour of Saturday’s contest, it appeared as if the two sides had swapped personalities, with the Gunners coming out of the traps like a team possessed, seemingly intent on producing the sort of committed performance that would provide the best possible response to the callous criticism that their Cesar was past it.
The question left on most Gooners lips was why had we failed to produce this sort of intensity for the vast majority of our campaign. If only we hadn’t hidden the light of such scintillating footie under a bushel for much of the past eight months.
Watching Wenger soaking up the heartwarming adulation as the squad celebrated their shock success in the Wembley sunshine, it was hard to imagine Le Gaffer being anywhere else. I could see Gooners everywhere nudging and teasing one another over the hypocrisy of our fervent chorus of “only one Arsene Wenger”. What a complete contrast to the poisonous vitriol spewing forth from the terraces at Palace only last month!
For the past couple of months, most have been convinced the only question was whether Wenger would sign an extension for one year or two. But I sense a change in our manager’s demeanour over the last week. He’s suddenly responded to what he perceives as a betrayal by those Gooners who’re intent on besmirching his legacy.
Whenever our ageing dinosaur has appeared to be at the point of extinction, the euphoria of the FA Cup has been there to provide the kiss of life. But this was no expected victory over Hull or Villa, this was a derby triumph over the club that’s provided the benchmark in recent times.
In an age where quietude is invariably impinged by the bling of a mobile phone, the hush of the 90,000 crowd in memory of Monday night’s tragedy was particularly moving. Yet it saddens me that the authorities have been cowed by this outrage, in cancelling the traditional trophy parade. depriving the red and white half of North London the opportunity to come together and revel in the very best of what multi-culturalism has to offer. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Community Shield to regale the Blues about sticking their double where the sun don’t shine and to chide Spurs about ending their best and our worst season in decades with no silverware.