The ‘new manager bounce’ really captivated Arsenal when Mikel Arteta arrived in December 2019.
While Premier League results weren’t overly impressive (largely because the team just wasn’t that good), things could hardly have been better in the FA Cup, where Arteta led the Gunners to five straight wins and a cup final which most thought was woefully out of their reach.
The best result of that run came in the semi-final, a ruthlessly efficient smash-and-grab against soon-to-be champions, and Arteta’s former employers, Manchester City.
Their reward for that 2-0 victory was another trip to Wembley to face Chelsea, who were looking to end Frank Lampard’s first season in charge with a trophy. The Blues have a good record in cup games against their London rivals, and when they went 1-0 up after five minutes, it looked like that could continue.
Fortunately for Arsenal, Arteta had one more trick up his sleeve.
Just one minute after Nicolas Pepe had a stunning would-be equaliser ruled out for offside, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was hauled down in the box by a desperately outpaced Cesar Azpilicueta, and the Gabon international made no mistake from 12 yards to tie things up.
Momentum was now firmly on Arsenal’s side, and things got even better for the Gunners when Christian Pulisic, who had been Chelsea’s only real threat in the first half, was forced off with a hamstring injury.
As the 66th minute arrived, Arsenal saw off some pressure from Pedro with a powerful interception from Dani Ceballos. The loose ball fell to Hector Bellerin, who went full Road Runner as he meep meeped his way through Chelsea’s midfield and towards the box.
Only a heroic challenge from Andreas Christensen could stop him, but Arsenal weren’t slowing down. The ball ricocheted to Pepe, who in turn found Aubameyang advancing into the box.
He gave Kurt Zouma the eyes, shimmying right before dragging the ball left and unleashing a delightful chip which Willy Caballero could get nowhere near in the Chelsea net.
Chelsea had nothing left to give, and Mateo Kovacic’s dismissal for two yellow cards only made them weaker. Arsenal strolled to their 14th FA Cup glory, which was seen by many as a snippet of how bright the future would be under Arteta.
“I am really proud of what we have achieved because I know the difficulties and everything we have been through,” said Arteta after the game (via BBC Sport).
“For me personally, it has been so tough over the past six months with a lot of things that have happened in our lives but I had just one mission when I came here and that was to make the players and staff believe we could do it.
“We had to change that energy and that mentality and just by seeing them in the dressing room all together, and the way they enjoy their profession and their time together, it makes me more proud and as a consequence of that after we can achieve things and win titles together.”
With a FA Cup in the trophy cabinet, Arteta vowed to turn things around. He had done enough to convince Aubameyang to stay, tying him down to an enormous contract to fend off interest from the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona, and the future looked bright.
12 months on, things haven’t exactly worked out that way. The Gunners ended 2020/21 in the same league position in which they finished 2019/20, and currently find themselves embarking on Rebuild 2.0 this summer.
The future that the FA Cup win promised us could still be in there somewhere, but what has been made abundantly clear is that there may be a bit of a wait before Arsenal get there.