“Now that I know I can do it, now that I know how to do it, next time I’m pretty sure I’ll find it easier.”
This is what a good friend of mine told me when I asked him hard it was to complete last month’s London Marathon.
My buddy could have been talking about any type of challenge. Delivering a speech, doing a parachute jump, driving a car for the first time, swimming the channel…
He could also, for supposition’s sake, have been talking about the challenge of winning a major footballing trophy.
This weekend in a different part of town, Arsenal venture into the unknown just like he did – and as someone that’s unashamedly rooting for them, I do hope they end up feeling the same satisfaction as my marathon-running pal.
For once the Gunners players taste success together for the first time, I’m certain that getting over the line ahead of the rest, won’t ever feel quite as problematic for this team again.
Inside a dressing room, just knowing that as a group of men you’re capable of going all the way, matters.
It doesn’t have to be the league title; a cup competition serves just the same purpose. After all, think about what Chelsea and Manchester City went on to achieve after they popped their respective cherries in 2005 and 2011.
Roman Abramovich’s revolution may have been in full swing prior to Jose Mourinho’s arrival in the summer of 2004, but guys like Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba hadn’t won a thing with the Blues before their 3-2 extra-time victory over Liverpool in the 2005 League Cup Final.
JT sat on the bench as an unused sub in their 2000 FA Cup Final victory, but that February afternoon in Wales was a watershed moment for all those guys.
Wasn’t it only a minor prize? That’s for you to judge but three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, another League Cup, a Europa League and a Champions League all followed in fairly quick succession once the west London seal was broken.
It’s all been happening for Manchester City since they won the FA Cup (their first major prize in 35 years) too.
To be frank, their 1-0 success against Stoke City is right up there with the least memorable finals in the entire history of the competition, but its significance shouldn’t be underplayed.
Since that afternoon the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure and David Silva have added two Premier League crowns and a League Cup to complete the set. None were prizewinners before, now they’re top dogs. And you sense their silver-snatching spree is only just beginning.
Arsenal, who led the table for longer than anyone else this term, were derided in some quarters for falling away to finish in their now customary fourth place, but only seven points separated themselves from the champions this time. That really isn’t much. There is no gulf.
Tying his best players to long-term contracts, Arsene Wenger is building a vibrant young side that can challenge on all fronts next season and beyond. Two or three quality additions in the right areas, and their squad will look close to complete.
First though, they have to beat Hull City - and they really should. In their previous two meetings this term the Tigers have shipped five goals and a whole host of chances to the Gunners. Their 2-0 and 3-0 defeats didn’t truly reflect the dominance Wenger’s boys showed.
Since reaching the final, lifted by the ebullient returns of Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey, in-form Arsenal have secured five successive wins, conceding just once. Hull for their part have been in dreadful nick.
Three years ago against Birmingham City, the Gunners made a mess of their big chance in the League Cup Final.
Tripping up again as they’re about to cross the threshold, doesn’t bear thinking about if you’re a Gunners fan.
To the neutral this season’s FA Cup Final probably seems like a one-sided formality, but the wider picture of Saturday’s showpiece is huge.
If Arsene Wenger’s team learns they can do it and discovers how to do it, next time they find themselves in the mix for a prize, they’ll find it far, far easier.
Nab this one, and that Arsenal trophy cabinet that’s been mocked so much these last nine years, might quickly fill up with silver.
Bet on the FA Cup final.