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As the 2014/15 season slowly passes into history it is time for one of ours to reflect on a remarkable personal achievement. I think Snowy may overestimate just how many people have achieved the ‘complete’ domestic season, and how often. I know I only achieved it once, in a time when it was very much cheaper than today both to watch matches and to travel to them (and they were mainly 3pm on Saturdays). Anyway, it’s time for me to thank Snowy, take a back seat, and let you digest her tale.

As I clicked on ‘Purchase Train Ticket’ for the third and final trip to Manchester this season it finally hit me. Provided I didn’t fall under a bus before the last few games of the season, I would realise an ambition that I’ve been chasing pretty much ever since I started watching football. To attend every single Arsenal domestic league and cup fixture in one season, both home and away.

Now I know there are many who post here who have achieved this many times over, and my little landmark may therefore seem impossibly minor. But it means a lot to me because in recent seasons when I’ve got pretty close there’s always been something that meant I missed a couple. An illness, the moving of a distant away fixture to midweek, a last minute meeting being put in my diary by an inconsiderate work colleague.

So, for want of a better word, it had become a bit of a “thing” for me to achieve of late, and this season – despite the best efforts of Sky and the BBC schedulers – I finally got over the line. And now that I have, is there anything to commend it?

Well clearly every season will offer occasions where watching the game on a dodgy stream that freezes every thirty seconds seems, with hindsight, an infinitely preferable option to seeing it in person, if only for the fact that it wouldn’t be what is occasionally several hundreds of miles from home when it’s all over, and we’ve just lost.

So be aware: there is absolutely no redeeming feature about the mileage you will rack up going on the road. The early starts. The late finishes. The public holidays spent travelling with a monstrous lurgy when you’d rather be in bed. The rearranged holidays when fixtures are moved. The long walk back to the station in the cold and rain after an utterly baffling loss, only to discover that not even the Costa Coffee is open, and the train will not have a buffet service.

Then there’s the rail replacement services. The moving of fixtures after you’ve arranged (and paid for) your travel. Getting back to London after the last Tube has gone and wondering if you’re ever going to find a Cabbie who’ll drive south of the river when it’s the middle of the night and pouring with rain.

All of these are the grubby motes in the otherwise sparkling eye of the regular travelling supporter. And while we’re all fairly sick of these niggles by about Christmas, by the tail end of the season they are just so soul-sappingly wearying, that I swear you can feel every last one of them aching in your bones, and that’s before you even start counting the cost in money terms, a rookie error I made once several seasons ago and won’t be repeating anytime soon.

So why should anyone put themselves through all this when every second of every game is available at the click of a remote control or a mouse? Well mainly because, at the time of writing, football is still a live event not a television programme, and absolutely nothing on earth beats being there.

Sometimes it’s the small things. Watching the pre-match warm up and catching someone being ribbed by a teammate for some minor error. Hearing that clever/funny new chant for the first time. Seeing a pass so utterly sublime that you look in wordless wonder at the complete stranger standing next to you, to find they are looking back at you with exactly the same ‘did that actually just happen?’ expression. The players coming over to the away section to say thanks after the game. The nod of recognition from a familiar face for which you have no name. The ‘war’ stories of thumping defeats. The funny stories. The jokes.

And sometimes it’s the big things. Being entirely consumed by a visceral collective roar as the ball finds the net. The times when the atmosphere crackles with so much shared energy it could light a small town. That particular feeling the entire away section experiences as one when you hear the final whistle after a bruising victory. The singing until your voice has gone after a loss.

Clearly those things can also happen at home games. But there is something about being outnumbered and surrounded that makes us feel somehow braver and noisier on the road. So we sing and we chant and we occasionally lurch roaring into the air like a single being in a way I wish we’d do a little more often at home.

But mainly what really makes it is the people. The people who are kind enough to offer a lift to an ‘impossible-to-get-home-from-using-public-transport’ fixture. The people who make the effort to block book train tickets for a large group. The people with the stories and the jokes. The people who bring the rum.

Of course we have our fair share of muppets, like any club, but over the years I have never stopped being amazed by the many acts of kindness, large and small, you can see on pretty much every match day.

There are probably as many reasons to love being a regular away supporter as there are Arsenal supporters, and I count myself as fortunate beyond measure to be among them. Also I am hugely grateful that the Club, who we are often quick to criticise, who were thoughtful enough to arrange chartered trains for those tricky Monday night fixtures this season. Without that, my ‘every domestic game’ would still be a distant dream, so thank you Arsenal – a classy gesture much appreciated.

So would I recommend going on the road for the whole season? Hell yeah. But if you do, please don’t come running to me in early December to complain because (a) Sky has rearranged all the Christmas fixtures at the last minute and (b) you’re broke. I’ll be too busy looking for someone who remembered to bring some rum, and nodding to all those familiar faces whose names I’ll never know.

Seventy-two hours after the event there is still a sense of giddiness in the air. For too long we went without winning anything of note, so to be celebrating a second consecutive FA Cup is somewhat surreal. I could get used to this feeling.

In an attempt to keep basking in the afterglow of an amazing day spent with wonderful people I looked back at all the pre-Final stuff I had missed as I spent most of my free time in the lead up to the Final getting the media day stuff into type. Then I stumbled on the following tale, with thanks to Katie for the heads up.

Nine-year-old Junior Gunner Malachi enjoyed the surprise of a lifetime during Arsenal’s game with Sunderland last week, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain paid him a visit with some special news.

https://www.facebook.com/Arsenal/videos/10153119094572713/

The Ox sought out the Edgware youngster in his seat at Emirates Stadium at half-time and invited Malachi pitchside to reveal that he had been randomly selected from over 34,000 Junior Gunners to be Arsenal’s mascot for the FA Cup Final against Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium.

The Arsenal and England star presented him with an Arsenal strip and FA Cup Final tickets in front of the Emirates Stadium crowd and explained that he would get to visit the Gunners’ changing room before the game at Wembley and lead them onto the pitch for kick-off.

The Ox said afterwards: “We really enjoyed surprising Malachi and letting him know he’d be our mascot for the FA Cup Final. He’s obviously a huge Arsenal fan and I’m sure he’ll have a fantastic time at Wembley that he’ll remember for a long time.” I’ll wager he did, Ox!

Malachi and his family had been told that he had won tickets to the Sunderland game kindly donated by Indesit, Presenting Partner of Junior Gunners, which he was thrilled about.  Little did he know that the Arsenal had something else in store for him!

What a lovely touch by the club, who continue to do things with a lot of class.

Art of Football New Cup Final Design

Also while it is fresh in the memory the good folk at Art of Football have added an Alexis special to their Arsenal product line. It is a reminder of a stunning strike and a great addition to an excellent range.

And with that I think I shall go and watch the match for a third time. Well, it only happens every twelve months, doesn’t it?

The boss overlooks that sea of yellow and blue

Todays post is brought to you by the letter R for record and r-senal, and the numbers 6 and 12, for obvious reasons.

A wonderful day took shape in Pinner. Scallops with black pudding followed by a delicious fillet steak, all accompanied by the most wonderful drop of red I can remember since last year! A leisurely journey to the stadium allowed sufficient time for us to down a couple of tasteless lagers each at the summit of Mount Wembley.

What unfolded in front of us in the next couple of hours was pure pleasure. We don’t do ‘easy’ Cup Final wins, unless you are counting Newcastle in 1998. Even that wasn’t without it’s moments. What happened yesterday though was the total and utter dismantling of admittedly poor opponents.

We had chatted with some Villa fans earlier, and wished them well on a rare day out, although by ‘well’ we didn’t mean win it. They must have been devastated at their team’s no-show, although some could have behaved better afterwards I hear.

One could understand a degree of disappointment, however. I haven’t seen a rerun or any other reports yet, but I cannot remember a solitary strike on goal for Wojciech Szczesny to save. The biggest surprise was that it took us forty minutes to turn our overwhelming dominance into the first goal. Theo Walcott, preferred to Olivier Giroud, fully justified his selection with a swing of his left boot. Three overgrown kids in block 502 hugged and bounced.

The second goal, if I am not mistaken, will fill our screens every Cup Final day to come when they are showing the great Wembley goals. Alexis Sanchez launched an absolute belter in off the bar. Why am I telling you that? You’ve seen it. Another group hug and bouncy bouncy thing with Arseblogger and West Stand Tone. The half-time rum was kicking in I think!

We were at it again when the BFG netted with the simplest of headers. Half an hour to go. I looked around, determined to take in as much as possible. A sea of yellow and blue, a forest of smiling faces, this is what good feels like.

The substitutions, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere followed in the dying moments by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Frenchman crowned his and our season in the final minute with a near post flick, and then the final whistle, and that sea of yellow and blue let forth pure emotion.

I seem to recall an announcement about Santi Cazorla being named man of the match. How one could assess any of the attacking players to be better than each other is beyond me. Maybe the rose tinted are still on, but for me Villa let us play, and to a man we did just that.

Arsene said of the victory afterwards,

“It was a convincing one because we were at it from the first until the last minute. I never felt that the focus dropped or that the quality dropped. Overall it became comfortable in the end.”

It was of course a day for records. Twelve FA Cup wins now for Arsenal, and six of them under Arsene’s tutelage. He reflected on the fact.

“I’m very proud of that because if it has not been done, it shows that it is not easy. All of us want to achieve things that are difficult. It’s great for the club as well because we’ve won it 12 times, more than any other club. Personally, I’ve played in seven finals and won six, so I am very proud of that.”

So another season, a mixed one certainly, ended on a high. The pints at Paddington tasted all the sweeter for it. Thank you to Charles and Kirsty, Ian, Ray, Steph, Blogs and Tone for a simply marvellous day. Thank you Nigel for the ticket, and thank you Arsenal for delivering at Stevie G’s birthday party. He would have loved it if he had been there.

Mikel gurds my iPhone

Mikel guards my iPhone

“Confident. I don’t like that word to be related to a Final because you know how difficult it is to win a Final. We have been working very hard. We know where we want to get. We are really keen to play.”

Mikel Arteta, captain on the pitch last season but probably not starting today has got his business head on as as a second consecutive FA Cup Final looms for the Gunners. The word ‘we’ is one he clearly uses a lot when with his team-mates, and his influence on the spirit of this group is clear.

“We have had some criticism but they haven’t found a way to break that togetherness that we have, and they try hard. Some of them they try really hard and they haven’t done it and I think the response has been good.”

On the subject of his team-mates he fields questions about the progress of those who have taken his role as he has recovered from injury. His praise appears heartfelt and earnest.

“I think his (Aaron Ramsey’s) development over four years that I have been here has been incredible. I think he has shown a lot of character and personality. (And of Francis Coquelin) I think it was the nicest surprise of the season. He gave something to the team that we were missing. I always liked Francis and I like him a lot now.”

The subject of whether or not progress has been made in the last twelve months is everywhere at the moment, and for some it can be considered so only by winning at Wembley, but Mikel takes a step back and offers his view in a considered fashion. This is a subject discussed in more detail in this weeks Arseblog Cup Final Arsecast.

“I think the club is in a different position. You can sense a different atmosphere around the club. The ambitions I think are going to be different for the club for next season. I think the quality we have is better than we had last year. I think the club is in a really strong position as well to push because financially it’s in a very good position. I think it is the right moment. I think we have all the elements to move forwards and be challenging. I think we have the ability to go ahead and set bigger targets. We know that the challenge is there and I think we have all the elements to go and progress again.”

What of the pressure that we came under last season? The skipper is asked if this Saturday will be any different.

“The pressure is going to be the same. I think we are going to be the favourites to win. We have been preparing really hard. We know what we are facing. It is a special occasion and once you walk out at Wembley and look around you, you know wow, this is going to be really difficult, and it is going to take some effort to win it.”

Aware that part of his role is in preparing those who didn’t experience the joy of winning the Cup last season, Mikel assures his audience.

“We will tell all the boys that haven’t been here, who don’t know what the FA Cup means in this country, this is big. Such a long time at this club without winning any trophies, that was a big lorry to carry behind your back. I think we have to create some momentum now. We have to create some momentum now and to do that there is no better way than winning some trophies, and setting some high standards.”

There is genuine warmth in his voice when the subject of the supporters crops up.

“I was really surprised at the support we had from the Arsenal fans. The following day we had 250,000 people on the streets, It was crazy and it was amazing and the best example you can get of how big this club is.”

As in the case of Mathieu Flamini, featured on Thursday, there is a question mark hanging over Mikel’s future as a Gunner.

“I will discuss my future after the Final. My aim is to be on the pitch as much as I can. I would love to (stay at Arsenal). We are both very clear about what we want, and we will announce something after the Final.”

That can be translated in a number of ways. I would like to think that possibly a player-coach role is one of the options up for consideration. Mikel’s playing future may depend on who is brought to the club in the summer, but can we really afford to lose his experience and obvious leadership qualities quite yet?

The Final ‘holic pound

So the preview has really been done for me by the players over the last three days, and the Arsecast. There are three decisions for the boss to make I believe, and two of these were discussed on the Arsecast.

In goal I would pick Wojciech Szczesny, but I think the boss could plump for David Ospina. Up front I think we will start Olivier Giroud ahead of Theo Walcott, and save Theo to run at tiring defenders in hopefully more than the last twenty minutes if required.

There is also a difficult choice between Jack Wishere and Francis Coquelin alongside Aaron Ramsey. Like Theo, Jack was in impressive form against West Brom last weekend but we can anticipate a much more combative approach from Villa and Coquelin’s solid displays since his unlikely recall in January have stiffened our spine. I’m with the latter.

If the last year has proved anything, it is that we can dig out results at Wembley, albeit not without the odd scare or two. The ‘holic pound is punted on something a little more optimistic. I’m on 3-1 to the Gunners which is available at 11/1 with Paddy Power. If you don’t have an account with them click here for an amazing 5/1 offer on an Arsenal win.

I hope those who missed out on the tickets, and obviously we didn’t get anywhere near enough, have sorted out a great venue to watch the match with friends. If you are one of the lucky ones and see me stumbling around tomorrow, do say hello. Let’s hope we are all celebrating wildly on Saturday night.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

RamboPresser15 

“It’s another opportunity to win the FA Cup. To score the winner last year was just a dream come true and hopefully I can relive that again”

Amen to that, brother Aaron. It would be the perfect end to a sometimes frustrating season for the young Welshman. He chooses his words carefully when asked to review his career progress.

“I’ve been through a lot in my career so far. I’m still only 24 so there is still so much to achieve and to win. That’s what I’ll be aiming to do now.”

A smile plays on his lips when quizzed about last year’s Final. The start of that match remains firmly in the front of the memory, making what followed all the sweeter.

“We were 2-0 down and starting to question ‘was it going to be our day’. I felt there was a lot of time left in the game to get back into it and obviously the goal before half-time was vital for us. We still had a full half to get back into it then. To finally win something was such a nice feeling and relief.”

The obvious next question revolves around having achieved that breakthrough win, can we follow up and do it again on Saturday.

“We never do it easy. I’m sure some of the fans would like it done a bit easier next time. Hopefully that’ll be the case on Saturday. They’re (Villa) a good team, very solid, they’ve been in really good form so we’ll have to be aware of that.”

Rambo is guarded in his response to most questions, although I am assured he is far more confident in one on one interviews with selected journalists. When the subject turns to our record this season against the bigger clubs his response is more immediate, more instinctive, and telling.

“I think in the past we have been a bit too naive. We’ve tried to play the way that we like to play a bit too much and we leave ourselves too open at times in the game. I think this year we’ve been a lot more solid as a team. We need to get that consistency through the season to challenge for the Premiership.”

There is always a mischievous question lurking on these occasions. I’m not sure what was expected in response to a query about press speculation linkng Aaron with Barcelona.

“That’s just something that’s been written in the papers. I’m just focused on Arsenal and winning the FA Cup. That sort of news doesn’t affect me or enter my mind.”

The topic of the support the club have is one that brings a warm smile to the young Welshman’s face. I wonder if his response might have been different a couple of years ago when he was under constant scrutiny from some.

“It’s always important to have your fans behind you. Even though last year we went 2-0 down you could still really hear them trying to get us back into the game. I thought they played a major part in that. You can see the amount of support that they show us, even on the parade. 250,000 fans on the streets. You can see how much this means to them, so hopefully we can give them something like that again.”

Amen to that too, Aaron. The stage is set for another Rambo celebration. How good would two winning goals in an FA Cup Final be? We might just find out at Wembley on Saturday.

Have a good one ‘holics.

Citroen’s Summer Survival Guide

Whilst Arsenal and Aston Villa fans still have the FA Cup Final to look forward to this weekend, they too will shortly be joining the rest of the football-loving nation in contemplating how to spend the next couple of months without watching their favourite club in action. So to give support and guidance to all football fans, Citroën has created the ultimate football fans Top 10 survival guide.

There’s plenty to keep family and football-loving friends happy until the new season begins, so it’s time to get out and about.

Zorb Football 

The beautiful game in an inflatable bubble. Skills are less crucial to get the ball from your opponent, you simply need to bash into them! Venues available nationwide including London Bubble: www.londonbubblefootball.co.uk

Visit the National Football Museum 

Experience the world’s greatest sport at the National Football Museum. Whether you’re a diehard football fan or planning a visit with your family to Manchester you can enjoy your visit to the world’s biggest and best football museum.  www.nationalfootballmuseum.com/

Learn to Football Freestyle  

Want a few more tricks up your sleeve for next season? Why not give Freestyle Football a try: www.beyondfootball.com/category/freestyle-football-tutorials

Play Footvolley 

Hire a badminton court with some mates and see if you’ve got the same tekkers as this lot: https://youtu.be/yOA528eEm1I

Camp Bestival Football School 

A family-focused football experience for festival-goers to enjoy throughout the event. Younger guests can enjoy Arsenal’s soccer school coaching clinics, play games, and win prizes. www.campbestival.net

Play a round of FootGolf 

Try one of the fastest growing activities in the country. FootGolf is played on a golf course using a size 5 football. The object of the game is to get the ball into the hole using only your feet in the fewest number of shots possible. Courses are available nationwide: www.ukfootgolf.com

Emirates Stadium Tour 

To make the visit to Emirates Stadium truly unforgettable, why not join one of the Legends Tours? More information at http://www.arsenal.com/emirates/emirates-stadium-tours

Join a 5-a-side league  

With venues like Goals Soccer Centres and Powerleague located nationwide why not grab some mates and get stuck in yourself? Find your nearest centre here: www.goalsfootball.co.uk/about/centres

Come to the Emirates Cup 

Joining the Gunners at Emirates Stadium for this summer’s pre-season tournament will be three of Europe’s leading clubs – Olympique Lyonnais, Villarreal and VfL Wolfsburg . Find out more here: http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/20150514/emirates-cup-2015-ticket-information

Play Headis 

Headis is a high-intensity German sport combining ping pong and soccer. A regular ping pong table is used, but the 7-inch ball can be struck only by a competitor’s head. The sport has been around for eight years and continues to grow.

Here’s how to play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kNsXDgOt9w

I know the focus of these examples is UK based, but there are some great ideas that will translate to wherever you are. Now, what else?

If you want a new customer offer of 5/1 from Paddy Power on Arsenal lifting the Cup then click here.

One more sleep! What did she wear?

There’s a lot to get through this morning, courtesy of being one of the fortunate invitees to Arsenal’s Cup Final media day. A handful of bloggers have been invited to ‘observe’ proceedings in the last couple of seasons. There were three survivors from last year on hand to guide Dave Seager, author of the wonderful ‘Geordie Armstrong on the wing’, popular Arsenal historian Andy Kelly, and Gunners Town columnist Darren Berry, through the day.

Arsene was fashionably ten minutes late and polite as ever. First up was the subject of injuries and he had to reveal that not only would Danny Welbeck not be fit for the Cup Final, but he would also not be available for England’s upcoming fixtures. That drew the query about whether Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott would start, and indeed did he know what his team would be, and not surprisingly the boss avoided the direct answer.

” I will not tell you anything today, and I just think it is important that we focus as a squad on winning the trophy.”

There followed a similar line of enquiry about the goalkeeper’s before the first attempt to draw the boss on the potential availability of Karim Benzema. That drew the expected reminder that we are focused on the Cup Final and “not in transfer mode”. If that was a polite put-down he was more brusque when asked somewhat tactlessly and mischievously about Jose Mourinho’s recent comments. A sign perhaps of the nervous tension he must be feeling ahead of another big day on Saturday.

The breaking news from Zurich proved irresistible, and Arsene avoided a snap judgement as the story was still unfolding.

“You want justice to be done and as well not to convict too quickly the people who have been taken away by the police. There’s an enquiry, sometimes I think we are too quick to convict people who have not been proven guilty.”

Then at last the inquisitors returned to the subject of Aston Villa and the FA Cup Final. Arsene singled out Christian Benteke, Jack Grealish, and his opposite number, Tim Sherwood, for praise, as well as emphasising his awareness of the task facing us.

“If you analyse their individual quality, they are a strong team. They had a great semi-final and of course they are a quality Premier League team who have a lot of strengths. They are a strong opponent.”

The presser concluded with an amusing exchange with a Chilean cameraman/reporter who followed up the obligatory Alexis Sanchez question with a very guarded attempt to draw some comment on the rumours linking Arturo Vidal to the Gunners. It ensured everyone went to watch the start of the morning training session with a smile on their face.

The Gunners training session gets underway

After training it was the turn of Mathieu Flamini to be the first player to be interviewed. Relaxed and confident, he impressed I must say. A recurring theme was that he feels that we have been able to build on last season and are therefore better prepared for what lies ahead on Saturday rather than perhaps we were last season.

“This team now has more experience. We won the FA Cup last year, so for us to go another year to Wembley and to have the possibility to win it again, of course, it’s a lot of pleasure. Hopefully we will win it for the fans, and for him (Arsene Wenger) too.”

Quizzed on the depth at the club and how difficult it is to make the squad Mathieu is honest. He has to be as injury has limited his opportunities in the second half of the season.

“I think it’s part of the game. Obviously you want to play in the top teams. There is a big effect with a lot of quality but you have to fight to find your place. It’s a part of the game. You have to accept the competition and I believe it makes you better.”

Mathieu waxed lyrical about Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, and of his latest rival for a start in front of the back four, Francis Coquelin.

“We all knew Francis was a great player, and I’m really pleased for him because he had the chance to prove it. I’m not surprised because I have got the chance to play with him every day.”

Mathieu confirmed that he has one more year at the club and is happy to remain. His experience and attitude may make him a desirable squad member but that could well depend on who comes in when the window opens. In his two spells at the club though few could argue with his desire and workrate. Surely nobody would begrudge him that third FA Cup winners medal on Saturday.

Cheers, ‘holics.

It is a joy to put Ned’s late offering in front of you. He looks back to an astonishing season when Arsenal, yet to win a major trophy, came closer than most in the twentieth century at that point to a double. Certainly it was closer than any southern team had come, and we would come even more agonisingly close six years later, having won both competitions for the first time in the two preceding seasons. Thank you so much Ned. Enjoy all.

Apologies to all in this estimable establishment if the fascination at Castle Ned with Arsenal’s rise between the world wars is becoming an obsession. Please indulge me one last time (for this season!) ahead of an FA Cup tie, one we all hope will be record setting (the tie, not the indulgence).

Aston Villa had won the FA Cup even before Woolwich Arsenal first entered the competition in 1889. They would win the trophy five more times before the two clubs were first drawn together in the Cup. Twenty-eight league meetings in the meantime had brought us little success — just six wins.

That first FA Cup meeting was in the Fifth Round on February 20th, 1926 at Villa Park. Arsenal were in transition. It was Herbert Chapman’s first season as manager. However, this was the tie of the round. Both teams were flying high in the old Division One. We were third, having topped the table throughout January, and would finish as runners-up, the highest place yet achieved by a London club. Villa lay sixth, which would also be their final position.

January and February had been unusually mild and wet interspersed with cold snaps. Villa Park was muddy that day. One of several early chance for the visitors went begging when inside right Jimmy Brain slipped in front of goal. We had started fast and furiously, but Villa gradually blunted the threat. The first half ended goalless.

Six minutes into the second period Chapman’s newly bought skipper, Charlie Buchan, headed home a cross from Bert Lawson. Lawson was a promising young winger who’d just got into the first team. He would lose his place when Joe Hulme, another of Chapman’s early big-name signings, arrived that very month from Blackburn Rovers. Lawson moved on to Brentford at the end of the season having played just 16 games. ’Twas ever hard for youngsters to break through.

The lead lasted three minutes. Keeper Bill Harper fumbled a Kirton cross, and the equaliser spun off a post into the net. There was plenty more excitement to thrill the 73,000 crowd, but no more goals, and 1-1 was the final score.

Four days later, we won the replay 2-0 in front of 71,000 at Highbury. One report said that Arsenal “had been rarely seen to play better”. Click here to see rare video coverage.

After four minutes, London-born Scottish outside left Dr. Jimmy Patterson, filling in for the cup-tied Hulme, drove home a pass from Brain from 12 yards out. Brain, the first player to notch 100 league goals for Arsenal, doubled the score 10 minutes later with a tap-in after Villa’s keeper Cyril Spiers spilled a Buchan pile driver.

The Patterson goal was rarer than a can’t-be-arsed paragraph. Dr Patterson, as he was known even in newspapers’ match reports, had served gallantly during the First World War as a medical officer with the London Scottish Regiment. After the war he played 73 games for the club as an amateur before retiring at the end of the 1923-24 season to concentrate on the medical practice he shared with his brother-in-law, John Scott, who was also the club’s doctor.

Dr. Patterson was good enough to have won the Scottish league title, playing on the right wing for Rangers when he was a medical student in Glasgow before the war. He won a second title in the first season after the war having switched to the opposite wing. Yet, after moving south, despite holding down as regular a place in the Arsenal forward line as a working doctor could expect to manage, and being picked for the Football League representative XI, he didn’t once score a goal in our colours before hanging up his boots.

Facing a chronic injury crisis, again nothing new under the sun, Chapman persuaded the good doctor to turn out for four games between mid-February and early March, 1926. Dr. Patterson not only broke his Arsenal duck but scored twice, the goal against Villa in the Cup and another against Newcastle in the League.

Hopes were high after the Villa game of a first Arsenal Cup Final. Four of the big guns of the 1925-26 season, Huddersfield, Bury, Sheffield United and Liverpool, had been knocked out in the previous round. Two more, Villa and Sunderland, were now gone. That left us and Bolton Wanderers as the two best teams still in.

However, we would fall at the last eight. Second Division Swansea Town caused a 2-1 upset at Vetch Field in the Quarters. Click here to see some amazing footage of the shock defeat.

Patterson played his fourth and final post-retirement game but couldn’t find a third career goal to keep us in it. Northern Irish international right back John ‘Alex’ Mackie got our goal, the only one he scored in 118 games for Arsenal. He would soon lose his place to Tom Parker, another of Chapman’s pivotal signings, but went on to a successful career at Portsmouth.

We’ve played ten FA Cup ties in all against Aston Villa, half of them crammed into an eight-season stretch between 1926 and 1934. We prevailed in seven of the ten, twice after replays, and lost three, once after a replay.  Two ties were in the 3rd round, four in the 4th round, and one in the 5th round. Three were quarter-finals. The two clubs have never met beyond that stage before now.

Villa last won the Cup in 1957, a 2-1 win over Manchester United that gave them the Cup for a then record seventh time. They have made the Final only once since, losing 1-0 to that lot from the bus stop in Fulham in 2000. It was the first final Villa had played against a team from south of Aston.

Victory at Wembley on May 30 will bring us a record-setting 12th FA Cup. It will also neatly tie another historical knot. It would give Arsene Wenger his sixth FA Cup, tying the record of George Ramsey. Ramsey managed Aston Villa to their first six trophies between 1887 and 1920 and was still in charge, aged 71, when the two teams first met in the Cup in February 1926.

Eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. The predicted rain hasn’t arrived. A replacement rail journey coach pulls up on the station concourse.  It quickly fills. Swindon are off to Wembley along with Chelsea and Arsenal supporters, cricket lovers heading to Lords, and it seems there is a running event in London as well. So begins the final journey of the season to the new home of football.

Beating the rush gets me to Arsenal station an hour before the pubs open, so a trip down memory lane is in order. Take a look at @TheGoonerholic on Twitter for the snaps of Highbury and assorted watering holes on the east side of our spiritual home. The Guinness is soon flowing as friends old and new exchange stories and enjoy moments of the cricket and grand prix on the televisions.

It’s a good day made better by Arsenal coming out to play with that swagger they have not turned on in recent home matches, and West Brom seemingly, and surprisingly, with their thoughts already turning to their summer holidays. Within seventeen minutes the game is effectively over.

Arsene rested Olivier Giroud and gave Theo Walcott a start up front, a move that yielded rich rewards in the opening quarter of an hour. First Theo hit a crisp rising drive inside Myhill’s far post, then he sniffed out a chance to pinch the simplest of second goals. The home support had something to cheer about again, and cheer they did.

Shortly afterwards Jack Wilshere conjured up what would later land him a second consecutive goal of the season award from Match of the Day viewers. I preferred last season’s wonderful team effort, but his astonishing thump from the edge of the box drew gasps from the crowd.

West Brom were unable to stem the tide and the only surprise was that we had to wait until the 37th minute for Theo to complete his hat-trick. Four nil at the half, it was not too surprising that we coasted little through the second-half. On a rare foray forward the Baggies earned a corner from which Mcauley got ahead of David Ospina to head home a consolation.

The selection of Ospina was an interesting one. With Fabianski’s appearance at Norwich on the closing day last season in mind considered opinion was that Szczesny would get the nod yesterday. That now raises the question of who will keep goal at Wembley. That will not be the only selection poser facing Arsene after Theo’s hat-trick.

League season over, players applauded on the start of their lap of honour, it was time to head back for the traditional sausage and chips in the Tollie (thank you Martin, Lou and team for another fabulous year of hospitality).

Third place, and therefore automatic Champions League group stage qualification is a degree of improvement. Our best finish in three seasons. The FA Cup needs to be retained for the season to be considered progress, perhaps? Arsene himself doesn’t agree.

“If you look at the start of the season, we had too many injuries in the first part of the season. Since January we haven’t lost any points compared to all our opponents. We have made progress and we had our players back as well.”

Let’s see what we think after this coming Saturday. Have a good week, ‘holics.

A league season that seems to have raced by draws to a close on Sunday, and Arsenal seem to be limping into a third place finish. Without a goal in the last three home matches, the Gunners face a West Brom who have become much more accomplished defensively under the management of Tony Pulis.

The Baggies are unbeaten in five, and those include impressive victories over Chelsea (3-0) and Manchester United at Old Trafford (1-0). Under Pulis they have kept ten clean sheets in seventeen matches. We’re not likely to see an expansive game from the visitors, so it is up to us to show we have learned the lessons of those last three homes. Arsene acknowledged as much in his press conference before the match.

“You want to go out of the season on a high and not feel miserable after a game. You want to feel that we have done our job well and that we have finished on a strong performance. We want to send our fans home happy on the last game of the season.”

On the last day of the season it would take a home defeat for us, a United win against Hull, and a seven goal swing to deny us the automatic Champions League berth. Arsene has his sights set firmly on a morale boosting win ahead of the FA Cup Final.

“We were many times under pressure when we absolutely had to win the game. We always delivered. This time we want to continue our tradition and do it again.”

He also hinted at a degree of rotation. Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez looked a little flat in the week and could be candidates for a rest before Wembley. Francis Coquelin could be in line for a return and Theo Walcott may be in line for rare start? Also expect a recall for Wojciech Szczesny with one eye on next week.

The Baggies have only Ben Foster ruled out by injury, so could Boaz Myhill have the game of his life at the Grove!

The ‘holic pound

I am hoping, rather than expecting, than we will find the fluency and creativity somewhat lacking of late. I also expect the visitors to put up a fight, so I am going for another 2-1 home win, available from Paddy Power at 7/1.

Thank you

It’s hard to believe this is the last match at the Grove this season. It seems like yesterday we gathered at the pub for the opener against Palace. A lot of Guinness has been sunk since. Maybe that is why it has seemed so short.

Tomorrow we’ll assemble, some for one last time this season due to the absurd ticket distribution for the FA Cup Final (and yes, if you have one spare let me know, thanks). I would like to thank those I have spent time with this season. The social side of the game is often more enjoyable than the game, and the reason I have renewed the season ticket again after much soul-searching for the second year running.

Thank you also to those who read my rambling throughout the season, whether or not you contribute to ‘the drinks’. Lastly thank you to those who have contributed guest posts, most of which have raised the bar around here.

Have a good one ‘holics.

 

 

The early evening often revolves around the email accounts associated with the blog. Like the posts you don’t read in the drinks, there is a healthy spam content involved. So if you are after any particular dodgy medications or would like to share the wealth of Iraqi looters and Nigerian princes just drop me a line at mugpunter@plummail.con. The spam filter on the blog is considerably more aggressive then that on the mail account, so fortunately involves less furious bashing of the delete key.

Then occasionally the Arsenal drop you some morsels, and not just the football-related information. That’s the stuff you might read on the website after three goalless home performances in a row. It’s what Arsenal are good at ‘doing’, but they tend not to blow their own trumpet enough. For example, the Arsenal Gap programme.

The Arsenal Gap programme is now seeking applications for the 2015/16 intake, starting in August this year.

Participants learn to coach with the Arsenal in the Community team in north London before having the opportunity to travel abroad. Gappers are trained to coach football and teach English in local schools and projects, before being given the opportunity to apply their new skills to community programmes around the world. Over the past nine years, participants have contributed to projects in 19 different countries. Coaches are currently based in Italy, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, Bahrain, Greece and in destinations across Africa, with more exciting locations planned for 2015/16.

Applications for the August 2015 intake are open until the end of June. It is expected that places will fill quickly, so aspiring coaches should submit their application forms as soon as possible. The scheme attracts school leavers in the main but is open to everyone over the age of 18.

For more information and details on how to apply click here.

The Arsenal Charity Shield

Then there is the good work undertaken by the Arsenal in the Community team. As part of their charity fundraising they are hosting a charity football tournament at London Colney on Saturday 6 June.

Eleven-a-side teams of all levels are invited to apply to take part. Entry per 15-player squad is £750, so £50 a head. All money raised goes to the Arsenal Foundation. More info here.

The Clare Balding Show

It isn’t just Arsenal who get in touch. BT Sport are offering readers the chance to apply for tickets to the live recording of Clare Balding’s FA Cup Final Special next week, Wednesday 27th May at 7PM.

They would love as many Arsenal fans to be in the crowd wearing their Arsenal shirts as they can fit in the studio. If you are around London next Wednesday then check out the details on the link here.

If you go do let us have your best pic from the evening to share with all of the other ‘holics here.

Thanks all.

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