Weekend Review: Cup relief
Our football team reflect on Arsenal's FA Cup victory and look ahead to Saturday's two big games.
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What now for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal after ending their trophy drought with an extra-time victory over Hull at Wembley on Saturday?
Dave Tickner: Wenger described it as the most important trophy win of his time at Arsenal - on the face of it an astonishing claim from a man who has led the club to two doubles. But it shows how much of a millstone the nine-year drought had become. Whatever excuses and explanations were offered, it was an unacceptable length of time for a club like Arsenal to go without silverware. Many of those who have mocked Arsenal's empty trophy cabinet are now quick to say it was "only the FA Cup" or "only Hull". You can't have it both ways. Arsenal have remembered how to win - albeit after making things improbably hard for themselves in a disastrous opening eight minutes - and that is a significant moment. As for next season, the target in the league must be higher than just the top four. But it's hard to escape the idea that, like Liverpool, Arsenal missed a glorious chance on that front this season.
Nick Hext: As with most things in football it all depends on money. If a minimum three to four quality new faces are introduced to the squad then there's no reason Arsenal can't manage a more sustained title challenge. Everyone knows a real top-notch striker is the main thing lacking in the Gunners squad - just imagine how much of a difference Luis Suarez would have made - and that has to be the priority this summer. Mesut Ozil will also be better in his second Premier League season and Aaron Ramsey is now one of Britain's top players with more to come in his development. There is class already in the ranks but Arsene Wenger has to be wary. Manchester United will be in the top-four mix next term and that will leave Arsenal fighting even harder to retain Champions League football. There are reasons to be cheerful but standing still will cost the club.
- The FA Cup
|Arsenal||3 - 2||Hull City|
Simon Crawford: It's being described as a 'new dawn' by some but I still think Arsenal are a million miles - and several players - away from being serious title challengers next season. Their frustrated fans may have been temporarily appeased by Saturday's far-from-convincing FA Cup final win, but is winning the occasional cup and hopefully finishing fourth enough for a club of Arsenal's stature? It looks as though Arsene Wenger is staying as manager and, by all accounts, is being promised a substantial transfer kitty. He MUST spend if Arsenal are going to improve. Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United will all invest significantly this summer, as will the likes of Spurs and Newcastle, so if Arsenal do not strengthen this current squad then they could easily be squeezed out of the top four and that will really put the pressure on Wenger.
Matt Brocklebank: Firstly, it’s worth praising Hull’s cup final efforts as it was obviously part of Steve Bruce’s plan was to try and catch the Gunners cold in the early stages having seen them freeze in some of the big league games earlier in the campaign. To be 2-0 up within 10 minutes would have been beyond Bruce’s wildest dreams but ultimately Arsenal’s superiority shone through as the Tigers wilted. The Hull defenders were out on their feet in extra-time and there was a sense of inevitability about Ramsey’s winner in the moments before it arrived following an attack that saw substitutes Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky waltz forward with ease. Wenger is due to sign a new deal in the coming days and, with the addition of a striker and combative central midfielder in the summer, Arsenal look nailed on for another top-four finish next season. Whether the trophy floodgates have now been thrown open, however, is another matter entirely.
How did Atletico Madrid come from relative obscurity to beat Barcelona and Real Madrid to the title in Spain?
DT: It's an astonishing achievement given the gigantic advantage the big two get from the structure of Spain's TV deal; the third horse just won a two-horse race and did it the hard way too. Diego Simeone is no longer the bloke who got David Beckham sent off'; he's the hottest talent in management. He has to take much of the credit for what Atletico have done this season. There are obvious parallels between his achievements with Atleti and Alex Ferguson's at Aberdeen.
NH: Diego Simeone's ability to put together a cracking squad and get the best out of it. It can't be overstated what a fantastic achievement it was to go to Barcelona and avoid defeat after stumbling in their previous two games - a loss against Levante and a disappointing draw at home to Malaga. They'd failed to grab the title when it was within their grasp but still kept their cool and finished the job in style at the Nou Camp. Atletico's success is not just a case of Real Madrid and Barcelona failing. This is a squad with quality throughout and you can expect to become even more familiar with names like Thibaut Courtois, Arda Turan, Koke and Diego Costa even if they move on to pastures new. The best team won La Liga and all credit to them.
- A Madrid
SC: I think Atletico have taken full advantage of a Barcelona side that is coming to the end of an all-conquering era and a Real Madrid outfit whose Achilles heel is that they are a side full of individuals and not a team. Having said that, to go to the Camp Nou and win the title against all the odds is a remarkable achievement. The league table never lies and Simeone's side have simply been the most consistent in La Liga. He has not got the biggest squad at his disposal and it looks as though several of his star players will leave in the summer, so to also reach the Champions League final perfectly demonstrates what an outstanding campaign it has been for them.
MB: In a word: Simeone. Having carved out a brilliant playing career, including a league and cup double for Atletico in 1996 plus 106 international caps for Argentina, he is now Europe’s hottest managerial property. Assisted by the infamously unforgiving Mono Burgos, Simeone has instilled into his Atletico side an unwavering sense of belief and getting the point they needed to seal the title at the Nou Camp on Saturday evening encapsulated their entire campaign. They were a goal down at the break, lost two key men to injury, had just 447 of their own fans (total attendance 96,973) to urge them along, yet still managed to find the all-important goal before comfortably keeping Barca at bay for the final 40 minutes. They left the pitch to a standing ovation and chants of “Atleti!” from the Barcelona faithful, a fitting end to a remarkable story.
Can Atletico now complete a remarkable double with victory over Real Madrid in Saturday’s Champions League final?
DT: It's asking so, so much for the players to refocus after such an outrageous high and concentrate on another massive game. But you can bet Simeone will get them to do it. The likely absence of Diego Costa is a cruel blow for club and player and you just fancy that Real Madrid's big-game matchwinners will get the job done.
NH: I've got to go with Real. They have been focusing on the Champions League final for weeks in the quest to win their 10th European Cup crown. La Decima has been an obsession at the Bernabeu for years and the players know bringing home the trophy will result in hero status – especially as it would come by beating their city rivals in the final. This season has proved Atletico can't be underestimated but in Saturday's one-off match it's Real who get the nod from me.
SC: Derby matches are notoriously unpredictable at the best of times so I certainly would not rule out Simeone's side pulling this off. I'm convinced Real prioritised this game, even before they were out of the Spanish title race - a bit like Mourinho did in England with Chelsea. That's a dangerous tactic ... just ask Jose! Injuries could hamper Atletico's chances but there is no reason why the fairytale cannot continue.
MB: I feared the worst for Atletico heading into the weekend, having fluffed their lines to some extent when drawing 1-1 at home to Malaga with La Liga at their mercy the previous Sunday. But they drew upon all their reserves and found a way to get the point against Barcelona and that will give them another massive shot in the arm heading to Lisbon. They are extremely hard to beat and will push Real Madrid all the way on Saturday but, in Bale and Ronaldo especially, Real have players who can produce a moment of cup final magic and a narrow victory for Los Merengues is on the cards.
Derby face Queens Park Rangers in the Sky Bet Championship play-final on Saturday - who will be joining Leciester and Burnley in the top flight next season?
DT: QPR will win on penalties after a dire 0-0 draw, prompting a rash of articles hailing 'Arry Redknapp a genius for steering the most expensive Championship side ever assembled - a side littered with full internationals - to promotion via the back door.
NH: I fancied QPR before the play-offs started and will stick with that prediction. It hasn't been pretty from Harry Redknapp's men this season but they will just about get the job done at Wembley. Derby pose a big threat - they were superb in dismantling Brighton - but the extra nous of QPR gets my vote and I'd back Charlie Austin to score the winner. I'll also go for Rotherham to brush aside Leyton Orient in League 1 and the League 2 contest between Fleetwood and Burton to go all the way to penalties.
SC: Derby for me - they are the side in form and their demolition of Brighton in the semi-finals was hugely impressive, both home and away. My only reservation is that QPR are a more experienced side and might just cope with the occasion better. These games are notoriously tight but I think Derby have more matchwinners in their side.
MB: I've had an inkling about Derby under Steve McClaren from a long way out so I'm not going to be deserting them now. These games are incredibly hard to predict and can often hinge on one decision or a moment of individual quality, but the Rams haven't lost a game since a 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough on April 5 and they brushed Brighton aside with ease in the semi-finals. They are 13/10 favourites with Sky Bet and I wouldn't put anyone off them getting the job done in normal time.