The FA Cup does fairytales like no other football competition but it excelled itself this afternoon. Arsenal were heavy favourites going into the game but they were 2-0 down in nine minutes via two strikes from Hull’s centre halves – James Chester and Curtis Davies.
Santi Cazorla gave Arsenal a lifeline with a stunning free-kick after 17 minutes. But they had to wait until the latter stages before Laurent Koscielny equalised from close range.
Arsenal poured forward after that and, as in the semi-final, sheer will made the difference.
The Gunners have had their fair share of great finals but this will go down with the best of them.
SETTING THE SCENE
As it turned out last week’s win over Norwich was a reasonable indication of the team today.
The only changes were the inclusion of Per Mertesacker and Santi Cazorla at the expense of Carl Jenkinson and Tomas Rosicky. The former did not make the bench.
That meant Lukasz Fabianski retained his role as ‘cup keeper’ ahead of regular No 1, Wojciech Szczesny.
Thomas Vermaelen was fit enough to be on the bench after a knee injury but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) did not make the 18.
Hull had mustered just one point in the five games since their semi-final win over Sheffield United.
They were underdogs this afternoon but everyone knows that means nothing in football – and especially in the this competition.
Arsenal’s start was the stuff of nightmares.
In their first attack, Hull scored. Ahmed Elmohamdy won a corner off Lukas Podolski.
Stephen Quinn fired it outside the area where the ball was volleyed towards goal by Tom Huddlestone. James Chester reacted quickly to divert the ball beyond Fabianski and just inside the far post.
A shock start.
Then, in the eighth minute, Hull scored again. A set piece was returned into the area by Stephen Quinn and Alex Bruce rose above the Arsenal defence to nod the ball against the post. Davies gleefully stabbed the ball home from an acute angle with Fabianski beaten.
The Arsenal fans were stunned into silence.
It might have been worse had Kieran Gibbs not nodded Bruce’s looping header away from under his own bar.
Arsenal were desperate for a reply. It came from Cazorla.
The Spaniard chose the perfect time to fire home his best free-kick in England. He fired it right-footed towards the top corner and, though Allan McGregor tipped it on top the underside of the bar it bounced it.
The goal swung the game.
Mesut Ozil might have equalised on two occasions firstly he miskicked from Podolski’s cross then his volley was nodded away.
For a cup final, it was wide open. Every attack seemed capable of producing a goal. Podolski’s rocket shot deflected wide and Ramsey’s goalbound volley was blocked.
After the half-hour, the game finally began it settle and Arsenal’s post-goal fire blew itself out.
Two minutes before the whistle, Giroud’s industry allowed him to reach the byline but Podolski could not bundle home his cross at the far post.
You could sense the urgency after the restart but they failed to find a way through. The only chance of any sort in the opening 15 minutes came when Huddlestone thumped a long-range effort over the bar.
Shortly afterwards the former Tottenham midfielder was fortunate not to give away a penalty when he appeared to haul down Giroud in the area.
On the hour, Wenger sprung something of a surprise by bringing on Yaya Sanogo for Podolski and switched to 4-4-2.
The change gave Arsenal impetus and drive once more. They pressed back Hull and appeared to be denied a penalty in the 66th minute when Davies swept the legs from Cazorla.
In the 78th minute Giroud raced to the near post and Sanogo tried to flick the ball home at the near post. It deflected for a corner. Sagna won the ball in the air and it bounced loose for Koscielny to flick home on the turn.
The centre back twisted his ankle in the process of scoring the goal and needed treatment.
Arsenal now had the wind in their sails and could have taken the lead 10 minutes from time when Sanogo found an unmarked Gibbs at the far post. He blazed the ball over the bar when he had to score.
Two minutes later, Giroud’s volley forced the best out of McGregor as Arsenal piled forward.
In the dying minutes, Sanogo whistled a shot just wide and Giroud forced a McGregor into a low save.
But Arsenal could not find a winner in normal time.
Ramsey had a quartet of chances at the start of the added period – one of the best he blazed over.
Wenger’s men were showing all the ambition but they were not prepared to gamble in the first half of extra-time. At the break, Wenger played his final cards by bringing on Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere.
It brought immediate dividend when Giroud’s backheel at the near post allowed Ramsey to fire home at the near post.
Hull now went for it and were nearly handed an equaliser when Fabianski cane flying out after Mertesacker slipped but Sone Aluko fired wide from an acute angle.
Sanogo nearly found a fourth in a rousing and ragged end to the game.
At the full time whistle the celebrations were laced with relief.
But Arsenal had their trophy.