Arsene Wenger looked both delighted an exhausted. As he went up with his team to collect the FA Cup from the royal box, his tie and jacket had both gone. He was smiling, but he looked drained. As the club captain Thomas Vermaelen lifted the trophy, the lid fell off and Wenger, neat as ever, picked it up and handed it to Mikel Arteta. Significantly, Vermaelen then gave the cup to Wenger. Protocol usually dictates it passes down the line of players, but there was a recognition this was the manager's triumph more than anybody else's.
He reiterated his intention to sign a new contract and, although that has been the message from the Emirates for the past few weeks, it seemed to mean more with the season over. There had been speculation that he would resign if Arsenal lost, and just as much speculation he might see breaking the drought as the ideal time to retire. At 64, though, he looks set to go again. "Look, that normally should happen, yes," Wenger said. "We are in very normal circumstances now. It was never a question of leaving, it was a question of doing the right job for this squad."
In itself, of course, this is just the FA Cup, something Arsenal used to win every other season -- four times between 1998 and 2005. But perhaps the fact Arsenal had to dig so deep, the fact that it faced *another * failure in the face and overcame it will toughen the side. As Brian Clough said of his time at Nottingham Forest, the most important trophy his side won was the now largely forgotten Anglo-Scottish Cup: "it gave them a taste for champagne."
But the future is the future and this is a success that should be acknowledged in its own right. That's partly because it's been so long since Arsenal won anything, and partly because it was won in such dramatic circumstances. "It's a relief and happiness because we were under severe pressure to win today and we didn't start well, for maybe Hull started strong and you could see we were hesitant," said Wenger. "We responded well and in the end it finished well so it is a big minute of happiness and we waited a long time for that. The happiness is linked sometimes with the suffering and the time you have to wait."
Arsenal has developed an unfortunate habit this season of conceding early goals -- something Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton have all exploited. Wenger has spoken often of his players' "nervousness," something to which the trophy drought, discussed endlessly by all parties in the build-up to the final, can only have contributed. Still, however anxious they were, it's hard to understand how they could be so sloppy in the opening quarter of the game. Every time Hull put the ball in the box, it looked like creating a chance.
It took its first. After four minutes, James Chester -- perhaps not intentionally - diverted Tom Huddlestone's volley into the bottom corner after a corner had been pulled back to the edge of the box. Four minutes later, Hull took its second opportunity. Lukasz Fabianski saved Alex Bruce's initial header form Alex Quinn's cross, but Curtis Davies was on hand to slam the loose ball into an empty net. With Arsenal reeling, only a header off the line from Kieran Gibbs prevented Bruce adding a third.
But then came what turned out to be the decisive moment, Santi Cazorla shipping in a super free-kick off the underside of the bar. If Hull had held out even 15 minutes longer, the pressure might have become intolerable for Arsenal. As it was, although Hull was able to frustrate Arsenal for a while, there was always a sense that Arsenal would, eventually, get back into the game.
Strangely it was with the introduction of the much-derided Yaya Sanogo that Arsenal found new impetus. Sanogo had seemingly tempted fate by mocking Jose Mourinho with a pre-match Tweet, asking "how much trophy" the Chelsea manager had won this season (although the Tweet came from his account, he denied sending it) but he ended up being a decisive presence. It was his dart across the near post that led to the corner from which Laurent Koscielny forced in the equalizer with 19 minutes meaning. And then, after a string of chances, it was Sanogo's dart into the box that presented the ball to Olivier Giroud, who back-heeled it to Aaron Ramsey. The Wales midfielder jabbed the ball in at the near post and the game was won.
The thought inevitably sprang up: what if he'd been fit all season? After all, extrapolating points won when Ramsey played over games when he did not, if had been ever-present, Arsenal would have got 87 points -- enough to take the title by a point from Manchester City. Other teams, of course, have also missed key players, but the statistic does highlight how important Ramsey was for Arsenal this season, and how investment is needed this summer.
But that is for the future. For now, there's celebration -- and relief.