This Saturday, Arsenal will take the field to compete in an FA Cup Final for the 20th time – more than any other club in the entire history of the 146 year-old competition.
The Gunners are the joint most successful team in the world’s longest-running cup competition; they, along with Manchester United, have captured the famous trophy a dozen times. Should Wenger’s men overcome the league champions Chelsea this weekend, they will become the undisputed Cup Kings.
It’s all a far cry from Royal Arsenal’s first foray into the FA Cup 128 years ago. In a sign of things to come, the young South London outfit crushed Lyndhurst 11-0 in the 1st Qualifying Round on the 5th of October 1889. That the side were knocked out by Swifts in the 4th Qualifying Round scarcely mattered, for the Arsenal Reserves still managed to attain some silverware that 1889/90 season in the form of the Kent Junior Cup (via AISA).
The following season the ‘Champions of the South’ made it through the qualifiers to the 1st Round properly, where they welcomed Derby County to Plumstead. On the 17th of January 1891, a record crowd of 8,000 at the Manor Ground saw the Rams edge past the Royals 2-1 (via Arsenal.com).
It would not be until the turn of the century that the club, renamed Woolwich Arsenal, would manage to overcome the 1st Round hurdle; in February 1901, they beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 before being knocked out by West Bromwich Albion.
In 1927, the Gunners reached Wembley for the first time, only to lose 1-0 to a Cardiff City team that had been on the losing side in the Cup Final only a couple of years before. Keeper Dan Lewis blamed his shiny shirt for the error that allowed the ball to squirm under his body for the only goal of the game, as the famous trophy was won by a Welsh side for the first – and thus far only – time in the history of the FA Cup (via The Arsenal History).
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The Golden Era of the 1930’s only witnessed an Arsenal Cup triumph on 2 occasions; the first major trophy in the club’s history in 1930, and the victory over Sheffield United in 1936. In between was the infamous ‘Over the Line’ final of 1932, in which Newcastle’s equaliser was mired in controversy as photographs confirmed that a goal kick should have been given before the cross that led to Jack Allen’s finish.
“As God is my judge, the man was in play”, declared referee W.P. Harper, showing a cavalier disregard for the rules of the game; the man may have been in play, but the ball sure wasn’t (via The Football Pink).
It wasn’t until their 5th visit to Wembley that the Arsenal would wear a changed strip for an FA Cup Final; the amber or old gold shirt with white shorts would prove lucky for the Gunners as they won 2-0 against Liverpool in 1950. This was also the first Cup Final to be shown live on television, broadcast in front of an audience of 1,000 in the Penge Odeon.
A couple of years later, Newcastle would be the Arsenal’s downfall a second time, as the Magpies eked out a 1-0 win at Wembley. They probably should have stuck to the old gold kit rather than reverting to red, but in truth the defeat was more down to the fact that the Gunners had to play an hour with 10 men after Walley Barnes was injured (via The Arsenal History).
The rest of the 50’s and the entirety of the 60’s were the darkest period in the club’s history; not a single trophy or FA Cup Final, and the finals the Arsenal did reach – those of the League Cup in 1968 and 1969 – both ended in defeat.
However, the drought ended in 1971 with the famous Double, and the FA Cup holders returned to Wembley the following year to defend their crown…only to succumb to Leeds United, the victors of the ’68 League Cup Final.
Three finals in a row came at the end of the decade, and the Gunners wore the yellow and blue – made famous by the Final of ’71 – for everyone. In 1978, an Arsenal side wrecked by injuries failed to live up to their favourites tag, and Ipswich Town triumphed by a single goal. For 1979, they were bolstered by the presence of Brian Talbot, who had experienced FA Cup success as part of that Ipswich team, and it was he who opened the scoring in the ‘Five Minute Final’ that ended in Arsenal triumphing over Manchester United. Lastly, in 1980 the Gunners – clearly drained by having to replay their semi-final against Liverpool 3 times – lost to West Ham 1-0 (via The Arsenal History).
The Arsenal had to wait until 1993 for another FA Cup Final, whereupon Andy Linighan scored at the end of extra-time in the replay against Sheffield Wednesday to send Gooners everywhere into raptures. This was the last ever FA Cup Final Replay, and as such means that Linighan’s winner will remain the latest FA Cup goal in perpetuity.
The win meant that the Arsenal became the first team to win the League Cup and the FA Cup in the same season. David O’Leary collected a second FA Cup winner’s medal 14 years after his first – the longest gap of any player (via The Arsenal History).
6 FA Cup wins with Arséne Wenger at the helm began in 1998 with vengeance, of sorts, against Newcastle. This completed a second Double for the Arsenal, and a third was added 4 years later; the scoreline was the same as in ’98, 2-0, but this time Chelsea were the victims.
In between was the first FA Cup Final played outside England, as Cardiff played host to the ‘Michael Owen Final’ of 2001. The Gunners dominated the match, going 1-0 up with less than 20 minutes left to play, but went home empty-handed after Owen capitalised on some sloppy defending to level the scores before sprinting past the tired Lee Dixon to place his winner beyond the despairing dive of David Seaman.
The trophy was retained in 2003 as a Bobby Pires’ goal was enough to beat Southampton in the first FA Cup Final played indoors; the Millennium Stadium’s roof was closed to keep the rain at bay. Two years later came the ‘Jens Lehmann Final’ in which Manchester United peppered the German’s goal to no avail before penalties were used for the first time in an FA Cup Final to separate the sides.
The Arsenal players all kept their nerve, dispatching impressive spotkicks, and captain Patrick Vieira’s last kick in the red and white was the winning penalty.
Another 9 years went by before the Gunners made it to the end-of-season showpiece, and their opponents in 2014 turned out to be a lot trickier than first appeared. Hull City raced into a two-goal lead in the opening 10 minutes, and Arsenal could have been three down had Kieran Gibbs not cleared a goal-bound effort off the line. Thankfully, a superb free kick from Santi Cazorla got the Gunners going, Laurent Koscielny equalised with some close-range bravery, and a lovely finish by Aaron Ramsey in extra-time made sure that the cup was Arsenal’s once more and finally ended their trophy drought.
The holders returned to Wembley the following year, and thankfully there was no repeat of the nail-biting tension of 2014. Theo Walcott opened the scoring, and three second half goals – including a thunderbolt from Alexis Sanchez – buried Aston Villa.
That Arsenal side went 16 games unbeaten in the competition from the 3rd Round of 2014 until defeat against Watford in the Quarter-Finals of 2016, one of the longest streaks in FA Cup history. The FA Cup win of 2015 also made Wenger the joint most successful manager in the history of the tournament, alongside Aston Villa’s George Ramsay.
Will Arséne become the greatest manager in FA Cup history?
Will the Arsenal make it a record 13 FA Cups?
Will there be enough available centre-backs to start with a Back 3?
Let us know in the comments.