May 16, 2014, 8:19 AM EDT
The FA Cup final kicks off on Saturday, with Arsenal and Hull City meeting at Wembley at 12 noon ET.
It’s all new for Hull, who’ve never made it to the FA Cup final before – and who, no matter what the outcome, will be headed into the Europa League next season. But that doesn’t meant the Tigers will be staring around naively as Arsenal run circles around them. They proved themselves capable of causing trouble in the league by beating Liverpool and topping Newcastle (back when Newcastle could still score) and they might have an upset left in them.
But even the most die-hard Hull fan likely admits that Arsenal have the edge in this one. Hull picked up just one point from their last five league matches, and that was a draw to Fulham. The Gunners, meanwhile, have won their last five, including a 3-0 victory over Hull back in April.
Plus, Arsenal may be fired along by just a touch more desire. A trophy’s been a long time coming for the club, with the last one lifted an FA Cup, back in 2005. And although Arsène Wenger insists that his contract extension does not hinge on his team finally picking up another piece of hardware for the cabinet, it may very well figure in to the deal that’s yet to be announced.
With Hull known to be pragmatic (or, to be frank, a bit boring) will this be a dull 120 minutes, finished off by a penalty shootout? Or will Steve Bruce throw caution to the wind, telling his team that they have nothing to lose by attacking Arsenal?
The road to the final
Arsenal: The Gunners’ FA Cup adventure started off in the most satisfactory of ways, with a 2-0 victory over North London rivals Tottenham. Then came an easy 4-0 victory over League One side Coventry City. The Gunners must’ve felt nervous when Liverpool came to town, as they’d just lost 5-1 to the Reds the week before. But Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored early, and Lukas Podolski added a second shortly after the restart. Steven Gerrard‘s penalty put the visitors on the board, but in the end it was a 2-1 Arsenal victory.
Next up it was Everton. Despite another early goal, this one from Mesut Özil, the sides were level at the break. Then the Gunners scored three in the second half. The 4-1 win took them to Wembley to face cup-holders Wigan – who proved to be their toughest opponents yet. Per Mertesacker got a late equalizer to force a penalty shootout, in which Lukasz Fabianski played the hero by saving two of Wigan’s strikes.
Hull: After forcing Tottenham to extra time in the Fourth Round of the League Cup, only to crash out on penalties, Hull may have felt rather confident about their chances in the FA Cup. A Third Round draw to Championship side Middlesbrough made it easy for the Tigers to progress, 2-0. The next round was even easier, with Hull drawn against League 2 side Southend United. Another 2-0 win and it was off to Brighton to take on one of the best sides in the Championship. Hull came unstuck, needing a late equalizer from Yannick Sagbo to force a replay, which they won 2-1.
Hull’s easiest match was, surprisingly, against Sunderland, their only Premier League opposition in the tournament. Curtis Davies, David Meyler, and Matty Fryatt all scored inside ten minutes in the second half. Then it was on to face League One side Sheffield United in the semi-finals at Wembley. The Blades had already disposed of Premier League sides Aston Villa and Fulham, and looked set to do the same to Hull. But the Tigers kept roaring back, eventually sealing a 5-3 win to move on to the final.
What they’re saying
Hull manager Steve Bruce, on his club’s chances: “The pressure will be on Arsenal because they have not won anything for a while,” Bruce said, way back in April, after the conclusion of the semi-finals. “They are a great side, they have great tradition and great history with a top-class manager. We are up against it but we will do our best.”
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger on that pressure: “There is a huge desire for us to finish the job in the FA Cup. There is a pressure there, a big one, but a positive one and we want to take that opportunity,” said Wenger. “It’s an opportunity for us to crown our season. There is always a huge expectancy. It brings pressure but we played many games in the season under that pressure and tension. That experience will help us in the final.”
No surprises in this one. Bruce is not likely to deviate from his plan, but Arsenal’s attack – particularly with Aaron Ramsey back – will be able to pick apart the Hull defense. The Gunners will finally have another trophy to polish up.
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