Henry leaves stage free for dream Dennis final
The morning of a cup final where you team is featuring is fantastic. The sense of anticipation is unbeatable.
But today, Arsenal are not just playing for the cup. Cementing a claim to greatness, and securing a form of justice, are also on offer.
Wenger's Arsenal has achieved two doubles; a championship win where the team went unbeaten, and another FA cup on top of that.
In Wenger's eight full seasons his team has not finished worst than runners-up.
This has all been achieved on a budget far behind Man Utd's, and latterly Chelsea. And it has been achieved through the remarkable transformation of Arsenal from a team focused on defence to one focused on total offensive football.
Wenger's Arsenal consistently plays the purest football of any other team in Europe. The recent masterclass against Everton deserves viewing on a worldwide scale. It was dreamland football.
However, there are many pundits who say Wenger's Arsenal are not a great team. They say we are a very good team but greatness is achieved by European domination or by winning a championship back-to-back.
Given that Wenger's Arsenal won a double in 2001-02 followed by an [unprecedented in modern times] unbeaten championship victory in 2003-04- both times playing supreme football- I find it difficult to accept the argument that this Arsenal side will not be considered as one of the greats.
But to cement Arsenal's case for greatness they need to win more BIG games.
Since the away win at Stamford Bridge in February of last season, Arsenal have played Man Utd and Chelsea a total of eight times [discarding the league cup and charity shield matches against Man Utd].
Out of these eight matches Arsenal have won NONE of them.
The record is four draws, three defeats, and one robbery.
This is a record that simply is not good enough for a team with the quality of Wenger's Arsenal.
Against this background, today's final is an opportunity for Wenger's Arsenal to show the world that aside from playing excellent football, they can beat BIG teams in BIG matches.
On the continent, Arsenal are viewed as a technically excellent team. But we have not achieved the intimidation aura of an AC Milan, a Real Madrid, a Bayern Munich.
To achieve this Arsenal need to do more than play glorious football in successive home games against Liverpool and Everton. We have to beat big teams like Man Utd, in huge matches like the FA Cup final.
This must be Wenger's team-talk prior to kick-off. And the players will fly into next season by fulfilling this test today.
An Arsenal win will also give the players and fans a sense of justice after being cheated at OT. After this match where a complicit referee handed Man Utd a win to break the 49ers record run, the fans and the players felt the cruelty of football in the biggest way. It took this writer a good couple of months to escape the cloud that rained on Arsenal that day.
The blossoming of Van Persie, Senderos, Reyes, and Fabregas this spring, along with the resurgence of Vieira due to the comeback of Gilberto, and the fact that Arsenal have conclusively shown that they can achieve without the great Henry, has made that dark day at OT a distant memory.
But the sense of injustice still lingers deep down. The fate of the cup has allowed Arsenal an opportunity to exert their own form of justice this afternoon, in Cardiff.
My player to watch is Dennis Bergkamp. He is an Arsenal legend. Dennis was choking with tears of satisfaction during the match against Everton when the fans showed their admiration for him. He has Arsenal in his heart.
Henry has left the stage to him. Play the greatest game one more time Dennis!