A Very Arsenal End To A Very Arsenal Season

Doing just enough for victory after the introduction of a young French forward and marking the departure of an established player to Manchester City. How very, very Arsenal...

Last Updated: 19/05/14 at 13:53 Post Comment

DISCLAIMER: The following piece is about the Cup Final, but it also sort of isn't; this is a Premier League/Sweating Pork Meat Diary, after all, and we have a remit to respect. But yes, trophies are still a fair chunk of the point, after all, and yes the FA Cup is still clinging on to its own worth, just about. Any Arsenal fans reading, rest assured that were anybody ever ridiculous enough to run an FA Cup Diary, then the equivalent piece would be full of praise for the thoroughly Cup-like manner in which they Cupped.

The most Arsenal of Arsenal's Arsenal seasons ended in an especially Arsenal way. There is no way this could have been more Arsenal, with the exception of Mr and Mrs Gunnersaurus having a child and naming him Fourth Place.

There was little more that could be done by Arsenal in their victory over Hull, and that is because they did almost the bare minimum to ensure victory having done their best to ensure defeat. Steve Bruce looked on from the side with the look of a man who'd expected defeat, and yet got it in the most miserable possible way, making a mental note to wonder what, exactly, he had done to anger God so much. Arsene Wenger celebrated calmly but stridently, with a sense of relief, but also a curious mixture of confidence for a man who must, deep down, know that whilst the emperor might be currently partially clothed, but his trousers are going to be worn by someone else from next August.

There are two kinds of FA Cup win: those that are nice on their own merits (how nice depends on how much you respect the cup, or how long it's been since you won it), and those that mean something for the future. When Manchester City won the FA Cup with Roberto Mancini, or the League Cup with Manuel Pellegrini, the sense was that they were milestones to be ticked off, one step of success on the way to something more meaningful - the strength of the squads and the huge financial backing ensured that more than the manager or anything fleeting moment of ephemeral triumph.

When Chelsea won the League Cup with Jose Mourinho in his first tenure, it was something similar: Mourinho wanted to ensure that his side grew 'used to the taste of champagne'. With an oligarch and the Special One, everyone knew what was in store, and two Premier League titles followed quickly.

But for Arsenal, you don't get that sense at all. This is something totally different. This is a man presenting his wife flowers from the garage. It's a gesture, but it's little more than that. Wenger has won the trophy that it is easiest to win. Arsenal beat Tim Sherwood's Spurs, Coventry City, Liverpool, Everton and Wigan. Only Liverpool presented an exacting challenge, and even that victory came after they had lost heavily to them a few days before; it was a win most remarkable for not being an embarrassing loss.

In that context, the trophy win is an attempt to make up for much bigger and more damaging failures. Any sense of morale in a player or fan that is confidently restored by this success is merely emblematic of why Arsenal always finish where they finish - because they don't have the team or attitude to achieve anything more.

Winning with Yaya Sanogo on the pitch proves the detractors right, rather than Wenger. Sanogo was bought as back-up, on a free from Auxerre. Olivier Giroud should be the back-up, as proved by his solid, six-out-of-ten performance. Wenger promised us Sanogo would surprise us, when in fact he is homeopathically Arsenal: his effectiveness is startlingly dilute, yet he is ever more intrinsically Arsenal. A young man from the French leagues, cheaper than anyone else and with some, but not enough potential. In three years time, he will still be there on a £70,000-a-week contract, ready to go out on loan to a Spanish side in financial crisis.

But in two years' time, Theo Walcott will be gearing up for his big-money move to Manchester City, having rejected the last offer of a contract from Arsenal, refusing to go a penny over £120,000. In June, Walcott will sign a four-year, £300,000-a-week deal at the Etihad, and will win the Premier League. If you want to see a dry run of a good player leaving Arsenal having been underwhelmed by his stay, then just wait a few weeks before Bacary Sagna does exactly that.

Rather than impress Sagna into a new contract two years ago, Arsenal have expertly allowed him to run down his contract in a way that lets him double his wages at no inconvenience, leaves him free to go to a superior side in the summer and then cost Arsenal the cost of a replacement, who they can then develop. If that player isn't very good, he will stay on a generous contract for a decade, and if he is any good, he will leave on a free in 2018, where he will win a trophy in the next season.

The most damning aspect of the Sagna situation is not simply that it is happening again. It is that it is now happening with a player as absolutely OK as that. He's a pretty reliable defender, with a talent at getting forward, but he is hardly of Robin van Persie or Ashley Cole's level.

As Arsenal have perfected Being: Arsenal, it means that they have prepared even their less-than-world-class players into performing a protracted contract dance which has the same result as every time before.

Still, Wenger has heeded the lessons of the season and will finally buy another striker to replace Giroud, accepting that he must improve the first team rather than just the squad. Oh, hang on. It says here that he's going to be Loic Remy, a Frenchman at an age where he has no potential, and has a level of skill that is perfectly acceptable in the Premier League fight for fourth, but conspicuously never successful in Europe. At Marseille he was regularly linked with Arsenal because no club of merit would take him seriously, but Wenger is suitably gullible. And so it will prove. And so, for Arsenal, it will go on.

It is rare that an FA Cup success throws up the limitations, rather than the strengths, of an entire club, but it is rare that a club like Arsenal and a manager like Wenger are so deeply indulged.

Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton

You can follow Andi on Twitter here, Alexander on Twitter here, and buy last season's Diary here.

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