Record breaker? Arsene Wenger's 9 most defining FA Cup moments
1. Arsenal 1-1 Sunderland, Third round, Jan 4 1997
Because we played on fields, what was amazing for me was to see the pitch at Wembley, the grass, it was unusual for us to see a pitch of that quality
Arsene Wenger’s never made any secret of his love for the FA Cup, so his first ever game in the competition would have been a special moment for Le Professeur.
“I remember when I was a kid I watched the FA Cup final in my village,” the Frenchman recalled last year. “We had to bring 100 francs to watch the television. Old francs: what was 100 at the time is one today. Everybody in the village could watch the television at the school. That was in 1955 or 56, when there was no television at home.
“I remember seeing Bobby Moore [on a separate occasion]. I don’t remember the teams, but I remember the white ball. Because we played on fields, what was amazing for me was to see the pitch at Wembley, the grass... it was unusual for us to see a pitch of that quality. And the ball rolling. We were used to seeing the ball bouncing all over the pitch.”
The bespectacled Frenchman had been in charge at Highbury for just over three months when he got his first taste of the tournament, with Sunderland holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw in January 1997. The Gunners won the replay 2-0 but were knocked out in the fourth round by Leeds.
2. Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle, Final, May 16 1998
Wenger’s initial FA Cup triumph came in his second season at the helm, when Newcastle were defeated at Wembley to secure Arsenal’s first double since 1971. Having been greeted with suspicion and cynicism upon arriving in England in 1996, this success – coupled with the league title that was wrapped up earlier that month – showed that Wenger did indeed belong in one of the country's top jobs. Goals from Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka either side of half-time gave the Gunners their second piece of silverware in as many weeks.
3. Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea, Final, May 4 2002
Wenger’s second double came four years later, Arsenal overcoming Chelsea at the Millennium Stadium following a Premier League campaign in which they romped to the championship by winning their final 13 games. The heartache induced by a dramatic defeat in the final 12 months previously was consigned to memory by Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg's strikes – those, after Michael Owen’s late brace sealed a 2-1 Liverpool victory to give the Merseysiders their sixth FA Cup win, with Wenger later remarking: “It’s quite strange because I've played six finals [now seven] and the one we deserved to win most was the one we lost.”
4. Man United 0-2 Arsenal, Fifth round, Feb 16 2003
The visitors bossed a fiery encounter to progress to the last eight, displaying the blend of style and steel that characterised Wenger’s early Arsenal teams
Southampton were Arsenal’s opponents in the 2003 final, but this fifth-round tie at Old Trafford was perhaps even more significant, providing as it did further evidence that the north Londoners could be long-term challengers to Manchester United’s dominance of the English game. Having won seven of nine league titles between 1993 and 2001, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would finish top of the pile in only one of the next five seasons, with Wenger’s Arsenal and then Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea making life far more difficult for the Red Devils.
This 2-0 victory was achieved without Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, who were both being saved for the Champions League clash with Ajax two days later. The visitors bossed a typically fiery encounter to progress to the last eight, displaying the blend of style and steel that characterised Wenger’s early Arsenal teams.
5. Arsenal 0-0 Man United (5-4 penalties), Final, May 21 2005
Manchester United were again Arsenal’s opponents in the 2005 final, but this time their victory was a great deal more fortunate: United created most of the goalscoring chances in this entertaining stalemate, with Wenger’s charges forced to defend resolutely for much of the 120 minutes. They managed to dig in to take the match to penalties, though, with Patrick Vieira dispatching the decisive spot-kick in what was his final act as an Arsenal player before a move to Juventus.
6. Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea, Semi-final, Apr 18 2009
The successful FA Cup campaign of 2005 marked the end of the first period of Wenger’s tenure, with the move to the Emirates Stadium a year later diverting funds away from the first team and towards the infrastructure of the club, a development that played a major point in Arsenal’s barren run without silverware. This semi-final defeat – as well as the 4-0 thrashing by Manchester United in the fifth round in 2008 – showed that Arsenal had been overtaken at the top of English football’s tree.
7. Arsenal 1-0 Leeds, Third round, Jan 9 2012
Two words: Thierry Henry. The Arsenal legend, on loan from New York Red Bulls, made a glorious return to the club by netting the winner against Leeds with a trademark finish in which he opened up his body and caressed the ball into the far corner. It was a fantastic moment, but one that also summed up Arsenal supporters’ frustrations with their manager: while the majority of fans believed the side needed strengthening in January, Henry was the only new first-team arrival that month. The Gunners duly crashed out in the fifth round (to Sunderland) and the Champions League in the last 16 (to Milan, after a 4-0 first-leg trouncing), leaving them empty-handed for a seventh consecutive campaign.
8. Arsenal 0-1 Blackburn, Fifth round, Feb 16 2013
Arsenal fans’ sheer desperation to win something was approaching boiling point by 2013, and with their side out of their title race by the time this match rolled around there was a real clamour for the FA Cup to be prioritised. The Gunners threw everything at Blackburn but just couldn't make the breakthrough, and were punished by Colin Kazim-Richards’ goal in the 72nd minute which knocked them out before the quarter-finals for the fourth year in a row.
9. Arsenal 3-2 Hull (AET), Final, May 17 2014
This match was extremely significant in getting the monkey off Arsenal’s back
The afternoon in which the long wait for silverware was finally ended, although it almost never came to pass. Hull stunned Arsenal by storming into a 2-0 lead within the first 10 minutes, before Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny’s goals took the game to extra-time, when Aaron Ramsey won it with a smart finish laid on by a neat Olivier Giroud backheel.
This match was extremely significant in getting the monkey off Arsenal’s back. Aston Villa were then hammered 4-0 in the 2015 final, with Wenger’s most recent success in the FA Cup helping to set his side on the path towards a sustained title challenge this term.